Loss of voice is called aphonia. A partial loss of voice may sound hoarse. A complete loss of voice sounds like a whisper. Loss of voice can come on slowly or quickly. It depends on the cause.
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Loss of voice is often due to problems with the voice box (larynx). However, there are many causes, including:
Conditions that affect the vocal cords or airway, such as:
- Laryngitis—caused by infections
- Irritants, such as smoke or air pollution
- Acid reflux from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Thickening, nodules, or polyps of the vocal chords
- Muscle tension dysphonia
- Laryngeal or thyroid cancer, or removal of the larynx
- Breathing problems
- Diseases that affect the nerves and brain, such as myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Psychological conditions
Things that raise the risk of aphonia are:
- Frequent talking or yelling
- Surgery on or around the larynx
Symptoms may be:
- Inability to speak or make sound
- Throat pain
- Problems swallowing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
The cause of the symptoms may not be clear. In this case, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. This doctor may use an instrument called a laryngoscope to check the vocal cords. Other tests may check voice function.
If test results are unclear, you may be referred to other specialists.
Treatment depends on the cause. Laryngitis may be eased with:
- Home care, such as:
- Resting the voice and drinking plenty of fluids
- Not smoking
- Using a cool mist humidifier
- Medicine, such as over-the-counter pain relievers
Depending on the cause, other treatments may be:
- Voice therapy—if the condition is due to voice overuse or vocal nodules
- Medicine to control acid reflux
- Surgery to remove growths
The risk of voice loss may be reduced by:
- Not smoking.
- Avoiding irritants, such as:
- Fumes and toxins
- Excessive talking, yelling, or whispering
- Treating underlying conditions
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association http://www.asha.org
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) https://www.nidcd.nih.gov
Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists http://www.osla.on.ca
Speech-Language & Audiology Canada http://www.sac-oac.ca
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 March 29, 2021.
Hartnick C, Ballif C, et al. Indirect vs direct voice therapy for children with vocal nodules: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;144(2):156-163.
Laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/laryngitis Accessed March 29, 2021.
Vocal cord disorders. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/vocal-cord-disorders. Accessed March 29, 2021.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 12/2020
- Update Date: 03/29/2021