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5 Reasons for Losing Your Voice (and Tips for Getting It Back)

Feb. 27, 2020 - Katie McCallum

We all know how important it is to communicate effectively, and — for many of us — it all starts with our voice. But, from noisy environments and bad cell service to that friend who's really only paying attention to his phone, it's easy for things to get lost in translation.

But, then there's losing your voice, which can make being heard and understood feel impossible. I mean, clarifying, "I said no cheese — not, yes, please" is tough when you're yell-whisphering at a drive-thru intercom that's three feet away.

"While losing your voice typically isn't a huge medical concern, it can be a significant nuisance to the person experiencing symptoms, especially if that person relies on his or her voice for work," says Dr. Yin Yiu, ENT doctor specializing in laryngology at Houston Methodist. "In addition, frequent voice loss or sustained hoarseness can be a sign of a more serious medical condition."

Why do we lose our voice?

You're probably already familiar with the most common reasons for losing your voice. After days of post-nasal drip, sore throat and feeling like you're hacking up a lung, it's not really all that surprising that your throat is calling a time out (which your doctor is more formally calling laryngitis).

But, what about that time you lost your voice after shouting at a sporting event or belting out lyrics at a concert? It makes you wonder — what's actually going on when we lose our voice?

"Regardless of whether it's caused by illness or excessive use, laryngitis occurs when your vocal cords become inflamed," explains Dr. Yiu. "This inflammation, or swelling, prevents your vocal cords from vibrating properly — which can lead to hoarseness and, ultimately, voice loss."

Dr. Yiu says that hoarseness can also result from development of benign vocal cord lesions, such as cysts or polyps. In addition, hoarseness could be a symptom of vocal cord cancer or neurologic conditions like vocal cord paralysis or vocal tremor.

"These conditions aren't as common, and affect the vocal cords in a different way than acute laryngitis, but they are less likely to resolve on their own and can only be diagnosed with a scope evaluation," says Dr. Yiu.

Do some people lose their voice more easily than others?

Anyone can lose his or her voice, but some people are more prone to voice loss than others — particularly those who use their voice a lot.

"About 30% of the U.S. working population is considered professional voice users," says Dr. Yiu. "The more obvious examples are performance voice users, such as singers and actors, but professional voice users also include people whose occupation requires they talk most of the day, such as clergy, teachers, lawyers and salespeople."

Plus, vocal cord inflammation can be caused by more than just illness or excessive use. While less common, Dr. Yiu adds that you can also develop hoarseness due to:

  • Inhaled irritants, such as chemicals, high levels of dust, molds and aerosols, fumes or vapors
  • Sinonasal inflammation or infections, which can result in post-nasal drip
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPRD)

 

So, do people who lose their voice more easily need to be concerned?

"Frequent voice loss usually indicates an underlying vocal cord abnormality," warns Dr. Yiu. "So, the concern is to determine why you're losing your voice so frequently. If you're losing your voice regularly or if your voice doesn't return to normal after a few weeks, it's time to consult a laryngologist (ENT voice specialist). He or she can investigate whether it's a sign of a larger, more serious medical issue."

Tips for getting your voice back

If you do lose your voice, you might be wondering how to get it back — quickly.

"The best thing you can do if you've lost your voice is to give it a rest," says Dr. Yiu. "Your vocal cords contact eachother every time you speak, so limiting speaking also limits the chance of further aggravating the vocal cords."

Dr. Yiu also recommends focusing on what's called your vocal hygiene, which can include:

  • Staying properly hydrated
  • Using a personal humidifier
  • Avoiding irritants, such as smoking, excessive caffeine or foods that induce reflux

 

"It's second nature to listen to other people when they're speaking, but we sometimes forget to listen to ourselves," says Dr. Yiu. "Preventing voice loss really begins with listening to yourself. If you feel like you're straining to speak, rest and give your vocal cords time to heal."

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