What causes loss of voice?

Loss of voice is the inability of the vocal cords to function properly. The most common causes are due to inflammation and infection and a result of swelling of the vocal folds, which prevents proper vibration needed to speak. Other causes include nervous system disorders and obstruction within the vocal cord region. Obstructions can be benign or malignant occurring within different locations, such as the thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, throat, and larynx.

Inflammatory causes of loss of voice

Loss of voice may be caused by inflammation or infections including:

  • Croup
  • Epiglottitis
  • Laryngitis
  • Pharyngitis

Other causes of loss of voice

Loss of voice can also be caused by several other conditions including:

  • Benign or malignant tumors
  • Goiter
  • Inhaled toxins or noxious fumes
  • Myasthenia gravis (autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle weakness)
  • Nodes on vocal cords (singer’s nodes)
  • Tobacco use

Serious or life-threatening causes of loss of voice

In some cases, loss of voice may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Malignant tumors
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of loss of voice

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your loss of voice including:

  • How long have you lost your voice?
  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of loss of voice?

Because loss of voice can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Adverse effects of treatment for loss of voice
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent loss of voice
  • Progressive neurologic decline
  • Spread of cancer


  1. Throat problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/throat-problems.html.
  2. Hoarseness. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/hoarseness.cfm.
  3. Schwartz SR, Cohen SM, Dailey SH, et al. Clinical practice guideline: hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2009; 141:S1.
  4. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  5. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.

What is loss of voice?

Loss of voice or hoarseness is the inability to use the vocal cords (larynx) effectively for speech. Medical terms for this symptom are dysphonia (change in voice) and aphonia (loss of voice). When speaking, air moves through folds in the larynx responsible for producing sound vibrations. If swelling or obstruction occurs within the vocal cords, the vibration is altered, thereby causing ch... Read more about loss of voiceintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with loss of voice?

Loss of voice may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the voice may also involve other body systems.

Inflammatory symptoms that may occur along with loss of voice

Loss of voice may accompany other symptoms related to inflammation including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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