Loss of Voice and Hoarseness

Woman being examined by a doctor
Woman being examined by a doctor. skynesher/Getty Images

Hoarseness and a loss of voice are caused by problems with the vocal cords in the larynx. Problems with the vocal cords are common and can be caused by a variety of things. Treatment can help recover your voice faster which may reduce sick time and improve your quality of life. While some treatments will work with most any reason for voice loss, some treatments are more specific to the actual cause.

Acute Laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is generally caused by a virus, such as the common cold. It is rarely caused by a bacterial infection, and therefore does not usually respond to antibiotics. You will generally recover with time within approximately 2 weeks, however you can help improve your vocal symptoms by:

  • resting your voice (refrain from talking or whisper)
  • staying home from work if your job includes singing, long periods of speaking or a lot of teaching
  • drinking plenty of fluids

Chronic Laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis includes a loss of voice or hoarseness that lasts for weeks or even months. There is generally an underlying cause of chronic laryngitis involving irritant exposure such as:

  • smoking
  • alcohol
  • chemical fume exposure

While some of the treatments for acute laryngitis may help with chronic laryngitis, proper treatment of the cause is really necessary to resolve your voice loss.

Hoarseness in People Who Smoke and Drink

Cigarettes and alcohol can cause benign hoarseness, but you should be seen by an ENT specialist if the hoarseness lasts for more than three weeks.

This is particularly important in smokers and drinkers, since these habits have been found to increase the risk of throat cancer.

Loss of Voice or Hoarseness Caused By Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can cause hoarseness and voice loss. When you lay down to sleep at night, and the acid from your stomach spills into your esophagus, which can affect the vocal cords. The best remedy for voice loss or hoarseness related to gastroesophageal relux (GERD), is to treat your acid reflux. This may mean making certain lifestyle changes, such as not eating before bedtime, or talking to your doctor about prescription antacid medications. Medications that my be prescribed include H2 antagonists (such as Prevacid) and proton pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec).

Misusing Your Voice

Voice loss and hoarseness related to voice misuse is most common among people who are required to speak or sing a lot for their profession. Individuals who experience a loss of voice or hoarseness from loud speaking, over speaking, or misusing their voice may need to have speech therapy to learn how to use their voice properly. Misusing your voice can lead to vocal cord cysts or vocal cord hemorrhage, both of which can also be causes for loss of voice or hoarseness.

Treatment of Voice Loss and Hoarseness

While some treatments are universally good practices if you experience a loss of voice or hoarseness, some treatments are more specific to the cause of your symptoms. Treatment options include:

  1. Resting your voice by whispering or not talking.
  2. Drinking plenty of fluids and resting in order to get over acute infections, such as a cold.
  3. Getting evaluated to determine if you have a yeast infection (thrush); particularly important for those who have a weakened immune system or use corticosteroid inhalers for asthma.
  4. Getting treatment for acid reflux.
  5. Learning proper techniques of breathing, speaking, and singing.
  1. Avoiding smoking and drinking.
  2. Reducing the amount of irritants, such as occupational dust or chemical fumes, you come in contact with.

Although chronic hoarseness is often due to irritant exposure, other possibilities include cancer or neurological disease. As such, a careful ENT work-up that includes examination of the vocal folds is required. You should always seek emergency care if you experience shortness of breath or have other difficulties with breathing.


American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Fact Sheet: Common Problems That Can Affect Your Voice. Accessed: September 2, 2009 from http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/commonvoiceproblems.cfm

Continue Reading