Our voice is our primary way of communicating with others, one that many of us rely on daily without a second thought. Whether we are talking phone calls at work, presenting in team meetings, or engaging with our family at dinner time, losing one’s voice can create a significant barrier to connection with others. While most of us rarely lose our voice, if it’s a frequent occurrence, it may be time to visit your local ear, nose, and throat specialist. Let’s take a look at 4 common and 4 serious medical conditions and/or reasons that cause voice loss.

4 Common Reasons You’ve Lost Your Voice

When it comes to voice loss, there are a number of common conditions that cause inflammation, irritation, and swelling in the vocal cords and larynx (voice box).

  1. Acute Laryngitis. Many individuals experience this when they get ill with a viral infection like the common cold, influenza, and acute bronchitis. The loss of voice or hoarseness happens suddenly, and is caused by the vocal cords swelling. When they swell, they cannot vibrate like they normally would, leading to hoarseness and sometimes whisper-like sounds. During episodes of acute laryngitis, you can seriously injure yourself if you use your voice too much. If you have breathing difficulties during an illness such as the above, you need to book an emergency ENT evaluation.
  2. Chronic Laryngitis. Recurrent laryngitis often doesn’t have an identifiable underlying cause. The most common reasons to experience recurrent laryngitis is due to acid reflux disease, smoke inhalation, and low-grade infections (yeast) from using inhalers. If you are in an environment where there are a lot of irritating substances in the air, you’re more likely to experience chronic laryngitis.
  3. Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease. If you get a lot of stomach juice reflux (acid reflux), this can cause a whole host of problems for the throat. You may experience chronic or intermittent hoarseness, swallowing issues, throat pain, or the “lump in the throat” sensation. It may or may not be accompanied by heartburn or regurgitation.
  4. Voice Misuse/Overuse. While speaking is second nature to us and seems really simple to do, it uses a lot of different muscle groups, which can be affected negatively if used improperly. Things like talking for extended periods of time, yelling excessively, speaking loudly in noisy situations, or using a pitch that is too high or too low can result in vocal misuse or overuse. You may also be at risk for developing benign vocal cord lesions.

Are There Serious Medical Conditions to Worry About?

Yes, there are 4 serious medical conditions to watch out for that are associated with losing one’s voice.

  1. Benign Vocal Cord Lesions. These are non-cancerous growths that occur on the vocal cords due to misuse or overuse. They alter vocal cord vibration and lead to hoarseness, and often show up either as nodules, polyps, or cysts. Voice therapy, and microsurgery are used to treat and cure the issue.
  2. Vocal Cord Hemorrhage. If you suddenly lose your voice after shouting, yelling, or taking on strenuous vocal tasks, you may have vocal cord hemorrhage. This occurs when a blood vessel on the surface of one of your vocal cords ruptures, causing the soft tissue to fill with blood. It is a medical emergency and requires you to book an ENT appointment immediately.
  3. Vocal Cord Paralysis/Paresis. If there are problems with the nerves or muscles within the larynx (voice box), you may experience paralysis or weakness in one or both of your vocal cords. Look out for a weak voice or no voice with no trouble breathing for paresis (one vocal cord), and noisy breathing or difficulty breathing with a weak voice/no voice for vocal cord paralysis (both vocal cords – rare).
  4. Laryngeal Cancer. If you are suffering from chronic hoarseness, it requires an evaluation as it may be due to laryngeal cancer, which is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. In the early stages, laryngeal cancer is highly curable, so make sure you are listening to your voice for any changes.

Is There a Way to Prevent Voice Loss?

To help you prevent voice loss, avoid putting strain on your vocal cords or lowering your immune system. For instance, avoid whispering, and clearing your throat too much to reduce vocal cord strain, and refrain from smoking or drinking alcohol as this lowers your immune response. If you suffer from upper respiratory illness a lot, talk with your doctor about avoiding illness, and boosting your immune system. If you lose your voice and it does not return within a week, schedule an evaluation with one of our ENT specialists or give us a call at: (407) 677-0099.