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.
is different from aphasia, which is a language disorder.
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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:
caused by a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
Vocal abuse—yelling or talking excessively
Exposure to airborne irritants, such as
or air pollution
Acid reflux from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Thickening of the vocal chordsNodules or polyps on the vocal chords
dysphoniaDamage to the nerves that affect how the larynx functionsLaryngeal
thyroid cancerRemoval of larynxBreathing problems that affect the ability to speak
Neurological disorders such as
and amyotrophic lateral sclerosisPsychological conditions such as hysterical aphonia
Factors that may 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 may include: Inability to speak or inability to speak above a whisperHoarsenessSpasm of vocal cordsThroat painDifficulty swallowing—food or fluids may go into the lungs
Call your doctor if you have any of the following: Hoarseness that is not getting better after 2 weeksComplete loss of voice that lasts more than a few daysHard, swollen lymph nodesDifficulty swallowingCough up bloodA lump in your throatSevere throat painUnexplained weight loss
Call for emergency medical services right away or go to the emergency room if you:
Suddenly lose your ability to speak—This may be a sign of a
Are having trouble breathing
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
You will be asked 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.
You can take the following steps to help ease laryngitis: Rest your voice.Avoid smoking. Stay hydrated. Use a cool mist humidifier.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as
Other treatments depend on the specific cause, such as: Participating in voice therapy if your loss of voice is due to voice overuseTaking medication to control acid refluxHaving surgery to remove growths
To help reduce your chance of aphonia:
If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to
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.
Casthely PA, Labagnara J. Hoarseness and vocal cord paralysis following coronary artery bypass surgery.
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Fact sheet: common problems that can affect your voice. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at:
http://www.entnet.org/content/common-problems-can-affect-your-voice. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Hoarseness or loss of voice. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at:
http://www.health.harvard.edu/family_health_guide/symptoms-hoarseness-or-loss-of-voice. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Maniecka-Aleksandrowicz B, Domeracka-Kolodziej A, et al. Management and therapy in functional aphonia.
Sancho JJ. Pascual-Damieta M, et al. Risk factors for transient vocal cord palsy after thyroidectomy.
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Last reviewed August 2015 by David Horn, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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