Even though we commonly associate a lost voice to getting sick, there can be a variety of reasons why someone loses their voice. Some of the reasons are very common while others are more rare but may be more serious.
If you notice that you frequently become hoarse, or lose your voice, make an appointment with an Orlando ENT to schedule your evaluation and rule out any serious condition. An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor can determine the cause of hoarseness or a lost voice, as well as offer a treatment plan.
The Science Behind a Lost Voice
When you lose your voice, in most cases the larynx and area around the voice box has become irritated, inflamed or swollen. When the vocal cords swell, they cannot produce normal sound. Irritated or inflamed vocal folds cannot vibrate properly and the sound they produce is abnormal and sounds “hoarse.” When this occurs, even though you are trying to speak normally, it may only come out as a whisper. In most cases, losing your voice is not a serious condition and it will pass in a matter of a few days as the inflammation goes away. If it does not pass, it may be time to contact an Orlando ENT.
Common Causes of a Lost Voice
There can be a number of conditions which cause an individual to lose their voice. These might include things like:
- Acute Laryngitis
- Chronic Laryngitis
- Reflux or GERD
- Misuse or Overuse of the Voice
In a vast majority of cases, a lost voice is caused by a virus or bacteria infecting the larynx. The virus typically comes from some other type of illness like a cold, bronchitis or the flu. The most common reason a person loses their voice is acute laryngitis. This is usually brought on by a viral infection, causing the inflammation in the area of the vocal cords.
Misusing the Voice
Speaking may seem like a simple task, but along with breathing it incorporates the use of numerous muscles. Just like muscle groups, the voice can be affected if not used properly. Overusing the voice might include speaking too loudly for a long period of time, talking for extended periods of time throughout the day, using a pitch that is too high or too low, or yelling excessively. This can often be a result of occupational voice use.
Serious Conditions Associated with a Lost Voice
There can also be some very serious conditions associated with losing your voice. These might include:
- Vocal Cord Lesions (Benign)
- Vocal Cord Hemorrhage
- Vocal Cord Paralysis and Paresis
- Laryngeal Cancer
In some cases, overuse or misuse of the voice can cause benign vocal cord lesions. These are like bumps that appear on the vocal cords due to trauma. Nodules, polyps or cysts are the most common types of lesions on the vocal cords. Microsurgery may be required to treat the lesions. Sometimes when a person is yelling or shouting they lose their voice suddenly. This can be the result of injuring the vocal cords and causing a hemorrhage. If you lose your voice suddenly after doing something strenuous like screaming or yelling, it is important to speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
Risk Factors for Losing Your Voice
There are some factors that can cause you to lose your voice. The three most common factors include: smoking, overusing the voice, and upper respiratory infections such as colds, bronchitis or the flu. An Orlando ENT can examine your throat to see if there are signs of infection. A culture of the throat may be taken to determine the type of infection, if any, exists. If a person has lost their voice for an extended period of time, the physician might do a laryngoscopy to look at the vocal folds. This will help determine the underlying cause of voice loss.
Can Voice Loss be Prevented?
There are a few things that you can do to try to prevent losing your voice. If you do lose your voice, the best thing to do is to try and rest it for about a week.
Here are a few tips that can help protect your voice from damage:
- Avoid whispering (this causes too much strain on the vocal cords)
- Don’t smoke
- Avoid “clearing” your throat
- Do not drink alcohol
- Use a humidifier
If your voice does not return after a week, it may be time to contact a local otolaryngologist and schedule your evaluation now.