Aphonia is a condition that involves complete or partial loss of your voice. You cannot speak or can only whisper. This is usually due to problems with the voice box (called the larynx). There is treatment for this condition.

The Larynx

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Aphonia can be caused by:

  • Physical conditions—may involve injury, inflammation, or disease, such as:
  • Psychological conditions, such as:
    • Hysterical aphonia (brought on by seeing or experiencing a traumatic event)
    • Selective mutism (symptom of an anxiety disorder)

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing aphonia:

  • Having surgery on or around the larynx
  • Overusing voice (eg, speaking until you are hoarse)
  • Having an anxiety disorder
  • Engaging in behaviors that abuse your vocal chords, such as smoking, which puts you at a higher risk for cancer of the larynx

Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.


If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to aphonia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Paralysis of vocal cords, either physical or psychological
  • Inability to speak or inability to speak above a whisper
  • Hoarseness
  • Spasm of vocal cords
  • Throat pain
  • Difficulty swallowing, food or fluids going into the lungs


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam. If there is a clear link to a physical cause, aphonia can be easily diagnosed. It may be more difficult, though, if the condition is due to psychological causes.

You may be referred to a:

  • Laryngologist (specializes in voice disorders)
  • Speech pathologist (specializes in speech and language disorders)
  • Neurologist (specializes in nervous system disorders)
  • Mental health professional


Your doctor will work with you to create the right treatment plan. Treatment options include the following:

Your doctor will also treat the underlying condition. For example, if you have polyps or growths on your vocal chords, treatment may include:

  • Resting your voice
  • Learning a new speaking technique
  • Surgery (in rare cases)


To help reduce your chance of getting aphonia, take the following steps:

  • Avoid abusing your vocal chords:
    • Avoid talking excessively.
    • If you smoke, quit .
    • If you drink, do so in moderation.
    • Limit the amount of caffeine you consume.
    • Limit your exposure to fumes and toxins.
  • If you have to speak a lot for your job, learn proper vocal techniques from a voice therapist.
  • If you have anxiety, get help from a counselor.
  • Get treatment for underlying conditions.