You may notice your voice is hoarse and raspy after an evening of cheering on your favorite sports team or singing along to your favorite band at a concert arena. In these cases, you know exactly why your vocal cords aren’t cooperating the next day. But at other times, it can be disconcerting to realize you are unable to speak above a whisper and communicate effectively with those around you. The following are 14 reasons you may discover your voice is failing you.
14. Acid Reflux
If you suffer from acid reflux, a weakened valve can allow stomach acids to back up into your esophagus. This results in a painful burning sensation and allows acids to erode the delicate tissues of your esophagus and throat. If untreated, these acids can also cause irritation and inflammation to your vocal cords and the larynx of your throat, causing reflux laryngitis. To prevent the painful effects of acid reflux, avoid going to bed with a full stomach. Additionally, refrain from eating fatty or fried foods, spicy or acidic foods, and carbonated beverages.
There are several ways in which allergies can affect your voice. First of all, allergens such as dust, smoke, or pet dander can physically irritate the tissues of your throat. Secondly, as your body works to fight off allergens through the production of histamine, nasal congestion can affect your ability to speak. Furthermore, the postnasal drip caused by mucus leaking down the throat from the sinus cavities can irritate and inflame the structures of your throat. To make matters worse, some medications used to treat allergies can leave your voice raw or dry.
12. Benign Growths
Sometimes benign growths can develop on the vocal cords, interfering with their function and preventing normal speech. According to the Cleveland Clinic, growths such as vocal cord nodules, polyps, or cysts are often related to overuse of the vocal cords. Professional singers or speakers may suffer from these growths. Symptoms include hoarseness, vocal raspiness, or vocal weakness and fatigue. If your voice is instrumental to your profession, take steps to prevent abusing your vocal cords. Rest your voice between speaking engagements, get plenty of sleep, keep well hydrated, and use vocal warmups before singing or speaking.
11. Dry Air
Your vocal cords require proper moisture and hydration. Humidity levels in your home should be between 30 and 50% humidity. Levels lower than 30% can cause nose bleeds, hoarseness, and dry skin. Levels above 50% can trigger the growth of mold. You can check the humidity levels in your home by purchasing an inexpensive hygrometer. Alternatively, you can check humidity using the ice cube test. Leave ice cubes in a glass of water for five minutes. After that time, excess condensation on the outside of the glass indicates excessive humidity. A complete lack of condensation may indicate air that is too dry.
10. Medication Side Effects
The medications that treat one medical issue may contribute to problems in other areas. Several medications have side effects that include changes to the voice or irritation to vocal cords. The decongestants and antihistamines that are so effective in drying out the overproduction of mucus in nasal passages can be overly drying to the throat. Diuretics, which are prescribed to increase urination, can result in dry tissues. A class of blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors is known to cause a dry cough and throat irritation.
9. Nerve Damage from Medical Disorders
Medical conditions that cause damage to nerves can damage the vocal nerves in addition to other nerves of the body. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson’s disease can change the tone, strength, and volume of the voice. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a degenerative disease of the brain and spinal cord. Voice changes can occur with this disease as the nerves of the throat become affected. Damage directly to the nerves of the throat through injury or repeated trauma can also cause a loss of voice.
8. Precancerous Cells
Vocal cord cancer frequently begins as small, abnormal cells that grow out of control in the throat. Smoking can contribute to vocal cord cancer, although it is not always a factor. Early signs of precancerous cell growth include unexplained hoarseness. See your doctor for an examination if you experience hoarseness from unknown causes.
7. Respiratory Infection
A respiratory infection can cause a temporary loss of your voice due to irritation and inflammation in the lungs, throat, and sinuses. While recovering from a bacterial or viral respiratory infection, take measures to allow your body to heal. Drink plenty of fluids, allow your body time to rest, and keep the air in your home humidified. Avoid the temptation to place extra stress on your vocal cords by whispering and instead allow your voice the opportunity to rest and heal.
6. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause vocal loss by affecting the small joints of the throat. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis should seek medical attention if they begin to notice hoarseness, as this may be a sign that their airways are becoming restricted. Surgery may be required to prevent the airway from becoming completely closed off.
Smoke, from smoking, secondhand smoke, or exposure to wood-burning stoves can irritate the tissues of the throat and vocal cords. Protect your voice by refraining from smoking and asking others to avoid smoking in your presence. Monitor the air quality in your environment and avoid exposing your throat and lungs to excessive smoke.
4. Thyroid Disorders
Studies show thyroid disease can affect the voice through both physical and hormonal changes. An enlarged thyroid gland can interfere with the movement of the vocal cords. Changes in hormone levels can also affect the strength and quality of the voice. Thyroid surgery can irritate or damage vocal muscles and tissues.
Inflammation of the tonsils at the back of the throat can cause hoarseness as inflamed tissues restrict the movement of the vocal cords. Other signs of tonsillitis include a painfully sore throat that persists for more than 24 hours, difficulty swallowing, and fatigue. Tonsillitis often occurs due to a viral infection, but in some cases, a bacterial infection can be the culprit. Consult your physician if you experience painful signs of tonsillitis.
2. Vocal Stress
Stress caused by overuse of the vocal cords can result in hoarseness or laryngitis. While singers, actors, and professional speakers are at risk for vocal stress, others may suffer from occasional overuse of their voice. Providing the opportunity for vocal rest and keeping well hydrated can aid in protecting the vocal cords. Additionally, cheerleaders, enthusiastic sports fans, and shrieking children may suffer hoarseness from vocal stress. In these cases, the voice typically returns to normal with rest.
1. Yeast Infection
A yeast infection may cause fungal laryngitis. This type of infection is most commonly seen in patients with compromised immune systems. Thrush is a yeast infection of the mouth and throat that can develop with the use of inhaled corticosteroids as allergy prevention. This infection shows up as painful white blotches on the tongue and inside the mouth. To prevent thrush while using a steroid inhaler, rinse, gargle, and spit after using your inhaler.