If you’re a professional singer, you may know exactly why your voice gets occasionally 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.
How the Voice Box Works
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.
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Why Am I Losing My Voice?
Now that you know how your voice normally works, you’re probably wondering 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, even if you’re not sick. If you’ve recently attended a concert or cheered on your favorite sports team, your vocal cords have likely been overused.
Common Illnesses That Cause Laryngitis
The other most common cause of voice loss is acute laryngitis. Depending on the culprit of your laryngitis, other symptoms can include a dry or sore throat, trouble swallowing, irritation, and coughing. Your voice may sound deeper than usual, scratchy, or altogether gone. Laryngitis often is the result of:
- Upper respiratory infection.
- Common cold.
Laryngitis left untreated will typically go away within about two weeks. But when the symptoms of laryngitis extend beyond 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.
Home Remedies for Voice Loss
Laryngitis can go away on its own, but there are some home remedies to aid in treatment and alleviate symptoms. First, you should rest your voice. Try not to speak unless necessary and avoid singing or yelling. Drinking water regularly can help cool the throat and expedite healing. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. Avoid unhealthy or excessively spicy foods. Also, try not to clear your throat, which can agitate the vocal chords, creating more mucus and a cycle of continuing to clear your throat.
When to See a Doctor
You should see your doctor if your laryngitis lasts longer than two weeks or you experience severe symptoms, such as:
- Coughing up blood.
- Difficulty breathing.
- A long-lasting fever.
- Increasing amounts of pain.
You should contact your child’s doctor about if your child has laryngitis and they also are:
- Having trouble breathing or swallowing.
- Drooling more than usual.
- Making a high-pitched sound when breathing.
These symptoms can be a sign of a condition called croup, which is an inflammation of the larynx and the airway beneath it. Croup can go away after about two weeks, but severe cases can lead to epiglottitis, which is an inflammation of the tissues that act as a lid over the trachea, or windpipe. If left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening in both children and adults. 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).
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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