You Wanted to Know: Losing Your Voice

Steaming white cup

Have you ever woken up a few days into a bad cold or a day after yelling all night at your favorite band’s concert to find that you can’t make a squeak? Losing your voice is a common phenomenon usually caused by a condition called laryngitis. Macie Hope asked us about this pesky problem on Twitter:

losevoice

Laryngitis is caused by inflammation of the larynx, or voice box. When your vocal cords become irritated or swollen, they don’t vibrate the same way, making your voice sound hoarse, squeaky, or even causing it to disappear entirely.

The most common cause of laryngitis is infection with a virus or bacteria that causes the larynx to swell or become irritated – the common cold, the flu and bronchitis are all frequently to blame. Overuse of your vocal cords from yelling, talking too much or singing can also lead to laryngitis. In cases of acute laryngitis, the irritation usually isn’t dangerous and generally resolves on its own over a period of several days to a week. Hoarseness in children, however, could be a sign of potentially dangerous airway narrowing and children who are hoarse or have lost their voices should be seen by a doctor right away.

If laryngitis lasts longer than three weeks, it qualifies as chronic. Chronic laryngitis may also develop due to heavy smoking or drinking, exposure to inhaled irritants like smoke or chemicals or acid reflux. Rarely, polyps or nodules may grow on the vocal chords and cause hoarseness. Cancer is also an uncommon cause, especially if symptoms develop gradually and don’t improve.

If you’ve lost your voice, here’s what you should do to get talking again:

  • Give your voice a break by minimizing talking for a week or so, especially loud talking and whispering, which actually puts more stress on your vocal cords.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid alcohol.
  • Use humidifiers or inhale steam in the shower or from soup or tea to help soothe your vocal cords.
  • Hydrate with plenty of fluids and avoid decongestants, which may further dry out your throat.
  • Gargle with warm salt water several times a day to help reduce inflammation.
  • If your hoarseness develops gradually or does not improve or if you are having trouble breathing, see your doctor.