(Loss of Voice; Partial Loss of Voice; Voice, Loss of; Voice; Partial Loss of)
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.
Aphonia can be caused by:
Physical conditions—may involve injury, inflammation, or disease, such as:
thyroid cancer Removal of larynxdue to cancer
- Damage to the nerves that affect how the larynx functions
- Paralysis of the vocal chord
laryngitis—viral, bacterial, or fungal
- Thickening of the vocal chords
- Nodules or polyps on the vocal chords
Vocal abuse (eg, yelling or talking excessively,
smoking, drinking a lot of alcoholor caffeine, being exposed to air pollutants)
- Breathing problems that affect the ability to speak
Primary progressive aphasia—a form of
dementiathat affects the ability to communicate
Other neurological disorders (eg,
myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
- Injury to the laryngeal nerve after neck or chest surgery
- Laryngeal or
Psychological conditions, such as:
- Hysterical aphonia (brought on by seeing or experiencing a traumatic event)
Selective mutism (symptom of an
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
- 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:
- Voice therapy
(may include stress reduction and
- Counseling combined with voice therapy
- Surgery can help in some cases of aphonia
Alternative medicine (eg,
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
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists
Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists
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Last reviewed November 2008 by
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