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Losing Your Voice? What Your Body Is Telling You

If you’re a professional singer, you may know exactly why and when your voice occasionally gets hoarse. But for the rest of the world, losing your voice can be a mystery, especially when there’s no obvious answer. So why do we lose our voices?

Rest assured, there are logical reasons why you may have lost your voice. But first, let’s establish how your body produces sound in the first place.

Between the base of your tongue and the top of your trachea sits your larynx, more commonly known as the voice box. The larynx is a hollow organ that houses your vocal cords. When you’re sitting quietly, breathing, those cords are relaxed and open.

But when it’s time to say something, they squeeze together so that the air flowing through vibrates the tissue and creates sound. The type of sound produced depends on the size and shape of your vocal cords and mouth. Other factors include the voluntary tightening and loosening of your vocal cords to elevate and lower pitch, such as when you imitate the sound of a siren.

Why Am I Losing My Voice?

Another factor that affects the quality of your voice is your health. Now that you know how your voice normally works, you’re probably wondering, “then why am I losing my voice?” Which one of those anatomical parts is malfunctioning? And most importantly, why?

There are a number of reasons you may have gone hoarse or completely lost your voice. If you’ve recently attended a concert or cheered on your favorite sports team, your vocal cords have likely been overused.

The other most common cause of voice loss is acute laryngitis. Depending on the culprit of your laryngitis, other symptoms can include a dry feeling in the throat, trouble swallowing, irritation, and coughing. Your voice may sound deeper than usual, scratchy, or altogether gone. Laryngitis is often the result of the flu or another upper respiratory infection, the common cold, or allergies. But when the symptoms of laryngitis extend beyond a period of two weeks, it’s considered chronic and should be checked out by your physician.

Other Possible Causes

If you’ve lost your voice and can’t identify an obvious cause, make an appointment to see your doctor. Experiencing unexpected hoarseness or voice loss can indicate an underlying health condition.

Other possible causes include:

  • Acid reflux, known as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
  • Growths on your vocal cord tissue, also called vocal nodules, polyps, cysts, and contact ulcers
  • Larynx cancer
  • Psychological trauma
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Some neurological disorders or diseases

Under normal conditions, occasionally losing your voice is simply part of life. But when the clues don’t add up to overuse or laryngitis, it’s time to get a professional consultation. For more information, contact the vocal health experts at UPMC’s Voice Center at 412-232-SING (7464).