Loss of Voice

Loss of voice (also called aphonia) may take several different forms. You may have a partial loss of your voice and it may sound hoarse. Or, you may have complete loss of your voice and it may sound like a whisper. Loss of voice can come on slowly or quickly depending on the cause. Aphonia is different from aphasia, which is a language disorder.

  • Causes

    Aphonia is usually due to problems with the voice box (called the larynx). However, there can be other causes, including:


    • Conditions that affect the vocal cords or airway. This may involve injury, swelling, or disease, such as:

      • Laryngitis
        caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
      • Vocal abuse (yelling or talking excessively)

      • Exposure to airborne irritants, such as
        smoke
        or air pollution

      • Acid reflux (such as
        heartburn)
      • Thickening of the vocal chords
      • Nodules or polyps on the vocal chords

      • Muscle tension
        dysphonia
      • Damage to the nerves that affect how the larynx functions
      • Laryngeal
        or
        thyroid cancer
      • Removal of larynx
        due to cancer
      • Breathing problems that affect the ability to speak

      • Neurological disorders (such as
        myasthenia gravis,
        multiple sclerosis,
        Parkinson’s disease,
        amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
    • Psychological conditions (such as hysterical aphonia)

  • Definition

    Loss of voice (also called aphonia) may take several different forms. You may have a partial loss of your voice and it may sound hoarse. Or, you may have complete loss of your voice and it may sound like a whisper. Loss of voice can come on slowly or quickly depending on the cause.

    Aphonia
    is different from aphasia, which is a language disorder.

    The Larynx
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  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    The cause of your symptoms may not be obvious. You may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. This doctor may use an instrument called a laryngoscope to examine your vocal cords. Other tests may also be done to evaluate your voice function.

    If your doctor is concerned that there may be a neurological or psychological cause, you may be referred to other specialists.

  • Prevention

    Take the following steps to help reduce your chance of getting aphonia:


    • If you smoke,
      quit.
    • If you drink, limit your intake.
    • Limit your exposure to fumes and toxins.
    • Avoid talking a lot or yelling.
    • Avoid whispering
    • Learn vocal techniques from a voice therapist if you have to speak a lot for your job.
    • Get treatment for conditions that may cause loss of voice.

  • Risk Factors

    Risk factors that increase your chance of developing aphonia include:

    • Overusing your voice (such as speaking until you are hoarse)

    • Behaviors that abuse your vocal chords, such as
      smoking, which also puts you at a higher risk for cancer of the larynx
    • Having surgery on or around the larynx

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

    • Inability to speak or inability to speak above a whisper
    • Hoarseness
    • Spasm of vocal cords
    • Throat pain
    • Difficulty swallowing (Food or fluids may go into the lungs.)

  • Treatment

    General measures that can help ease laryngitis
    include:

    • Resting your voice
    • Avoiding smoking
    • Staying hydrated
    • Using a cool mist humidifier

    • Taking nonprescription pain relievers (such as
      acetaminophen,
      ibuprofen) as needed

    Other treatments depend on the specific cause, such as:

    • Participating in voice therapy if your loss of voice is due to voice overuse
    • Taking medicine to control acid reflux
    • Having surgery to remove growths