by Cresse M

Loss of Voice

(Aphonia; Partial Loss of Voice; Voice, Loss of; Voice; Partial Loss of)

Definition

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.
Aphonia is different from aphasia, which is a language disorder.
The Larynx
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Aphonia is usually due to problems with the voice box (called the larynx). However, there can be other causes, including:

Risk Factors

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

Symptoms may include:
  • Inability to speak or inability to speak above a whisper
  • Hoarseness
  • 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 two 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 medical help right away or go to the emergency room right away if you:
  • Suddenly lose your ability to speak—This may be a sign of a head injury or a stroke.
  • Are having trouble breathing
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.

Diagnosis

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.

Treatment

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 acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
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

Prevention

Take the following steps to help reduce your chance of getting aphonia:
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • 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.

RESOURCES

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association http://www.asha.org

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders http://www.nidcd.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists http://www.osla.on.ca

Speech-Language and Audiology Canada http://www.caslpa.ca

References

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;6:263-264.

Fact sheet: common problems that can affect your voice. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/commonvoiceproblems.cfm. Accessed August 21, 2014.

Hoarseness or loss of voice. The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/symptoms/hoarseness/hoarseness1.shtml?Back=Back. Accessed August 21, 2014.

Maniecka-Aleksandrowicz B, Domeracka-Kolodziej A, et al. Management and therapy in functional aphonia. Otolaryngol Pol. 2006;60:191-197.

Sancho JJ. Pascual-Damieta M, et al. Risk factors for transient vocal cord palsy after thyroidectomy. Br J Surg. 2008;95:961-967.

Vocal nodule. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 20, 2012. Accessed August 21, 2014.

Revision Information

Health Library Search

Only show results from the selected categories.











Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a rare speech disorder. If you have FAS, you adopt what sounds like a foreign accent, even though you may never have traveled to that par...

Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a voice disorder. It occurs when the muscles of the throat freeze or go into spasms. Words are strangled and strained or they don’t get out at...

3 Dysarthria condition

Dysarthria is a speech disorder. It differs from aphasia, which is a language disorder....

4 Apraxia condition

Apraxia happens when you are unable to do learned movements or signals. You may have the desire and the physical ability to do the movements, but you cannot. There are ma...

Aphasia occurs when a person loses the ability to communicate in words. Anomia is a problem naming objects. When you have aphasia-associated anomia, it is difficult to na...

7 Alexic Anomia condition

Alexic anomia happens when you lose your ability to understand written words. You can no longer read and name words. This is a type of aphasia, which is a language disord...

8 Aphasia condition

Aphasia is a communication disorder. People with aphasia may have difficulty with the expression and/or understanding of language, as well as reading and writing....

10 Dyslexia condition

Dyslexia is a disability that can hinder a person’s ability to read, write, and spell. It is a common learning disability in children and lasts throughout life. The sever...

11 Kids Get Headaches Too lifestyle - kids' & teens' health

While most people associate headaches with adulthood, kids get headaches too. Read here to find out more....

12 Easing a Headache the Natural Way lifestyle - alternative health

How can you stop the pounding of a tension headache if you don't want to take medication? See our tips for drug-free headache relief....

13 Sexual Headaches: From Ecstasy to Agony lifestyle - sexuality & health
14 What to Do When Your Child Has a Nosebleed lifestyle - kids' & teens' health

Nosebleeds can happen in an instant, and children are the ones most likely to get them. Here is how to handle them....

15 Nosebleed condition

Nosebleed refers to blood flowing from the nose or nasal passage. There are two types of nosebleeds:...

16 Sinus Headache condition

Sinus headache refers to head and facial pain associated with inflammation of the sinuses (called sinusitis ). The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull that have open...