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.
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:
- Psychological 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 whisper
- Spasm of vocal cords
- Throat pain
- Difficulty swallowing—food or fluids may go into the lungs
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Hoarseness that is not getting better after 2 weeks
- Complete loss of voice that lasts more than a few days
- Hard, swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Cough up blood
- A lump in your throat
- Severe throat pain
- Unexplained weight loss
When Should I Call for Medical Help Right Away?
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 overuse
- Taking medication to control acid reflux
- Having 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.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists
Speech-Language & Audiology Canada
Acute laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 17, 2014. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Casthely PA, Labagnara J. Hoarseness and vocal cord paralysis following coronary artery bypass surgery.
J Cardiothorac Vasc Anesth. 1992;6(2):263-264.
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%5Fhealth%5Fguide/symptoms-hoarseness-or-loss-of-voice. Accessed August 21, 2014.
Maniecka-Aleksandrowicz B, Domeracka-Kolodziej A, et al. Management and therapy in functional aphonia.
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