A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Laryngitis: 5 things to know about losing your voice

Cold viruses always seem to be aplenty at the same time you head out to watch and cheer on your favorite sports team. So, you know it’s coming … the moment you speak and nothing comes out.

So, why do you lose your voice?

Vocal cords in your voice box, or larynx, open and close smoothly to make sounds through movement and vibration. But in laryngitis, they become inflamed or irritated. This causes sound distortion, hoarseness or leaves you voiceless.

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Betty Xiong, a Marshfield Clinic Internal Medicine physician assistant, provides insight on five things you should know about laryngitis:

Man signaling a sore throat or lost voice - Laryngitis

In laryngitis, your voice box becomes inflamed or irritated, causing sound distortion, hoarseness or temporary voice loss.

What causes people to lose their voice?

“A variety of things can cause you to lose your voice and commonly it’s overuse or due to the common cold,” Xiong said. “People who cheer loudly or scream frequently during concerts or sporting events could experience it. Vocal cord inflammation and irritation are causes, too. Inflammation can come from the common cold or other viral illness. Irritation can occur from allergies, post-nasal drainage, acid reflux, exposure to chemical fumes and smoking. More serious causes can be an abnormal growth in the vocal cords, muscle disorders and cancer.”

Can it happen without other symptoms?

Definitely, says Xiong.

“If it’s due to overuse, you can lose your voice and have nothing but voice hoarseness. Or you could have an abnormal growth and simply be hoarse,” Xiong said.

Do you need to see a doctor?

Consider seeing a doctor if your voice has not improved within two to three weeks, Xiong suggests.

“It depends on what’s causing you to lose your voice,” she said. “If it’s due to a common cold or overuse, it will resolve on its own in that time. If laryngitis doesn’t get better after that, see your provider to learn if anything else is going on, especially if you have no other symptoms.”

Do you need antibiotics or other treatment?

It depends on the cause.

If it’s the common cold or a virus, Xiong said antibiotics won’t help so it’s best to wait it out. If post-nasal drainage is the culprit, you may have a sinus infection that may benefit from treatment. Or, if it’s acid reflux, you may need your physician’s care. If symptoms last for more than two to three weeks, see your doctor since causes of voice hoarseness are treated on a case-by-case basis.

Can you do anything at home that helps?

The best treatment could be as simple as not talking.

“Voice rest is the biggest thing,” Xiong said. “You want to rest vocal cords and keep hydrated. This helps with irritation and inflammation. If you smoke, quit, since that causes irritation, too.”

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