Why Am I Losing My Voice?

Maybe you first notice something is wrong when your normally clear-as-a-bell voice gets a little bit husky. Pretty soon all that your friends can hear is a lot of croaking when you try to speak up. Too much singing in the shower, you wonder, or is something more serious to blame?

Check out these culprits that could explain why you're hoarse.

A Cold

When you speak, air passes through the voice box in your throat and hits the two bands called vocal cords. Your voice make sounds when they vibrate.

A cold can throw a wrench into this smooth-running machine. Your throat gets inflamed and sore. Then your vocal cords swell, which affects the way they vibrate. The end result: You're hoarse.

Rest your voice and drink plenty of fluids. Your volume will return when you recover.

You Use Your Voice Too Much

Each time you talk or sing, you use different muscles, including some in your mouth and throat. Just like other muscles in your body, overuse of the ones that help you speak can lead to fatigue, strain, and injury. The wrong technique can also bring on hoarseness.

Here are some common things that you may be doing wrong:

  • Speak, sing, yell, or cough too much
  • Use a pitch that's higher or lower than normal when you talk
  • Cradle your phone between your head and shoulder

Smoking

Cigarette smoke irritates your vocal cords, which can lead to long-term voice problems. Studies show that former and current smokers are about three times more likely to have a voice disorder than people who never smoke.

Smoking can also raise your risk of developing a small, noncancerous growth called a polyp on your vocal cords. It can cause your voice to become low, breathy, and hoarse.

Allergies

When you think about allergies, you probably think of a runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing. But they can also take a toll on your voice in several ways:

  • An allergic reaction can cause your vocal cords to swell.
  • Postnasal drip -- when mucus moves from your nose into your throat -- can irritate your vocal cords.
  • Coughing and clearing your throat can strain your vocal cords.
  • Antihistamine drugs for allergies can dry out mucus in your throat. This may harm your vocal cords, which need moisture to work.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis

It's an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints. About 1 in 3 people with RA get vocal problems, including a sore throat and loss of voice. That's because the condition can affect tiny joints in your face and throat, which leads to problems with your breathing and the way your vocal cords work.

Trouble With Your Thyroid

This butterfly-shaped gland in your lower neck pumps out a hormone that controls a number of functions in your body. When your thyroid doesn't make enough of it, one symptom you might have is a hoarse voice.

If you have a goiter -- when your thyroid gets larger -- you may cough a lot and have problems with your speech. A growth on the thyroid, or a nodule, can also affect the way you speak.

GERD

It's a condition that makes stomach acid wash back up into the esophagus, a tube that leads into your throat. The main symptom is heartburn, but GERD can also weaken your voice.

Stomach acid can irritate your vocal cords, throat, and esophagus. This leads to a hoarse voice, wheezing, and too much mucus in your throat.

Laryngitis

It's a not a disease, but a catch-all word that means you've lost your voice. If it happens suddenly, it's called "acute" laryngitis. You can get it from a cold or overusing your voice.

You can get long-term laryngitis if you breathe in something irritating, like smoke or chemical fumes. It also develops if you get yeast infections of the vocal cords, which can happen if you use asthma inhalers or have problems with your immune system, the body's defense against germs.

Nodules, Polyps, and Cysts

Although experts aren't sure why, non-cancerous growths can appear on your vocal cords. They believe that heavy overuse of the voice, such as too much yelling or speaking, can be a cause. There are three types:

Nodules. These callus-like formations usually grow in the middle of the vocal cord. They tend to go away if you give your voice enough rest.

Polyps. These typically appear on one side of the vocal cord. They have a variety of sizes and shapes.

Cysts. They're firm masses of tissue that grow near or beneath the surface of your vocal cord. If they make serious changes to your voice, your doctor will likely recommend surgery to remove them.

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Nervous System Diseases

A condition that affects your nerves, like Parkinson's disease, can affect the muscles in your face and throat. Nearly 90% of people with Parkinson's get some form of a speech or voice disorder.

Parkinson's causes the parts of the brain that control movement and coordination to decline. This may mean that you're no longer able to control the muscles needed for speech.

Laryngeal Cancer

Long-term hoarseness or voice loss may be a sign of throat cancer. Other symptoms for the disease are:

If your voice problems last for more than 2 weeks, see a doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on December 7, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

The University of Chicago Medicine: "Vocal Cord Disorders."

Byeon, H. Journal of Voice, May 2015.

Effat, K. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, May 2015.

New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai: "Allergies and Postnasal Drip."

Develioglu, O. Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, March 2014.

American College of Rheumatology: "Rheumatoid Arthritis."

Hamdan, A. Autoimmune Diseases, May 2013.

Cleveland Clinic: "Thyroid Problems," "Hoarseness: Frequently Asked Questions."

Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Thyroid Disease."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition and Facts for (GER) and (GERD)."

American Academy of Otolaryngology: "Nodules, Polyps, and Cysts," "Voice Box (Laryngeal) Cancer," "Common Problems that Can Affect Your Voice."

Parkinson's Disease Foundation: "The Science and Practice of Speaking Loud."

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