What Causes Voice Loss?

Last updated: August 7, 2020

Your voice is an important tool and you can’t afford to lose it! However, most careers that involve a lot of talking can put you at risk. When you strain or lose your voice it can cause irritation, pain, inflammation and dryness in your throat. In some severe cases your sound becomes obvious to others when that raspy hoarseness, more commonly known as vocal fry, sets in. This can prove to be rather uninviting or even unattractive in a person’s personal and professional personas.

For receptionists and others who depend on their voice to provide customer support, the vocal fry can be a fatal feature. After all, a live receptionist is expected to sound polite, warm and inviting over the phone. This certainly isn’t easy to accomplish when you sound like Marge Simpson’s twin sisters, Patty and Selma Bouvier. In order to understand how you can prevent losing one of your most valuable assets, let’s discuss what voice loss really is and the reasons that may cause it.

What Is Voice Loss? And, Where Does It Come From? 

A strained voice or the loss of voice is what doctors commonly refer to as laryngitis. Voice loss (or laryngitis) is not a disease. It’s more of a temporary condition that strains the throat muscles which, if left untreated, could develop into a permanent condition or handicap. If it happens suddenly, it’s referred to as an “acute” condition.

You might lose your voice for several reasons, but viral and bacterial infections are the primary causes. These infections will create soreness or pain in your throat. You may even find it rather hard to speak or swallow. Until the infection clears, you probably shouldn’t be at work. You could pass the infection onto your co-workers and that’s just not cool. Always be courteous of others and their health too. Keep your germs at home where you can get your best rest and rehabilitation. And, remember to confirm your treatment plan with a physician.

Illness is not the only culprit here though. Certain lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking alcohol, have a big impact on your throat’s overall health. Certain foods and a lack of fluids can cause you to lose your voice too. And, let’s not forget that your throat is made of muscle. Just like any other muscle in your body, if strained, you’ll experience some soreness and swelling.

Alright, now you are aware of the more common factors that cause voice loss. But, how do you keep yourself from loosing your voice? Unless you have a preexisting condition, you can do a lot in your daily life to prevent straining or losing your voice. Here are a few helpful tips: 

Quit smoking and drinking alcohol 

A study published in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery states that smoking can lower a person’s pitch. A lower pitch can sound hoarse and thus unfriendly, uninviting and even unattractive. We have all heard that chain-smokers voice at some point in our lives and it isn’t a pleasant one to listen to. The same study also states that an individual’s voice can improve as early as 40 hours after quitting smoking. By giving up smoking you will improve your voice and you might also avoid some other more serious illnesses it causes, like cancer.  

Along with smoking, alcohol is a major contributor to vocal fry. It causes your mouth and throat to dry out and can lead to soreness in the throat muscles. If you must drink alcohol, do so in moderation. That means less than 14 units per week, regardless of your size, weight or age. If you can, avoid drinking alcoholic beverages all together. Your voice and overall health will thank you for it.

Stay Hydrated

An article published through Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery suggests that dehydration is one of the primary reasons why people suffer from voice lose. The author of this article, Mahalakshmi Sivasankar, suggests that both internal and external hydration are important for your voice. 

Internal hydration depends on an individual’s health conditions and lifestyle choices. For example, diabetics can suffer from low blood sugar, which causes the body to dehydrate. External hydration depends on a person’s diet and their fluid intake habits. Snacking on fries, chips, candy, and other salty or sugary junk foods will affect your hydration levels and often irritate your throat. Instead, eat lots of fruits and vegetables that are rich in potassium. Like potatoes and bananas. Drinking lots of water often throughout the course of your day helps as well. A good rule to live by for fluid consumption is to drink your weight in ounces of water daily. So, for example, if you are 150 pounds you should be drinking 150 ounces of water every day. For a few more trips to the restroom, it’s totally worth it. Also, limit your coffee intake and consumption of other highly caffeinated beverages. Caffeine is a significant contributor to dehydration. Don’t forget, alcohol causes dehydration too! Try your best to eliminate or severely reduce your consumption of alcohol.  

Watch what you eat And Practice healthy habits

Certain foods can irritate the lining of your throat, mimicking the symptoms of voice loss. In general, it is important to eat healthy, but there are certain foods to avoid in order to help ensure the strength of your voice. According to Elizabeth Layman, University of California – Berkeley, foods you should avoid if you want to protect your voice are dairy based foods. Like milk and ice cream. They can cause post-nasal drip, which is an automatic reaction your body has in the glands of your nose and throat. This reaction continually produces mucus to fight infection, moisten nasal membranes, and filter out foreign matter. The results, an inflamed and irritated throat. In addition to dairy products, processed meats with high salt content can dry out your throat as well. Go easy on the bacon and sausage. Fruits aren’t always that innocent either. Particularly citrus fruits will dry out your throat. Lay off the lemon water for better hydration.

There is some good news about your snacking habits here. Layman reveals that foods and fluids like toasted bread, cantaloupes, apple juice and herbal teas are all great snacking options to protect your voice from the vocal fry. And, don’t forget your vitamins! They too are important contributors to your voice and overall health. Remember to always research what you eat so that it suits your specific dietary requirements. No one person is the same. So, customizing your diet is essential for your overall health.

Don’t work so hard

Each time you speak or sing the muscles in your larynx, also known as your voice box, vibrates in order to produce sound. If you overexert these muscles, they will become inflamed and irritated. For those of you that exercise regularly, you already know that working the same muscle group every day can cause significant inflammation and result in some soreness. When you speak over the phone consistently without breaking, your throat muscles will experience a similar reaction.  

Take regular breaks to rest your voice. Keeping lozenges nearby is a good idea, but don’t eat them like candy. It’s very tempting, but those lozenges contain lots of sugar. In addition, you can also learn certain breathing techniques to help relax your vocal muscles. These techniques can help keep your throat and mouth from drying out. For example, breathing through your mouth causes dryness and throat irritation, but breathing through your nose can help reduce it. No one likes a mouth breather. Not even your throat.

A Safe Work Environment 

You might be surprised to learn that your office environment could be causing some harm to your larynx. Speaking loudly will not only disturb others in your workplace but it will result in the possible strain of your voice. If you speak loudly, others will have to as well, resulting in a domino effect. With this effect you and your co-worker are both now wearing out your voices. Here are a few helpful tips to keep your working environment and safe and sound one…

  • Always keep your headsets at the right position and ensure that they’re working well. That way you won’t feel the need to speak loudly for callers to hear you.
  • Speak with your supervisor(s) to ensure that the background noise is to a minimum. Not all workplaces have enclosed offices. Some work spaces are separated by open cubicles. There is a lot of sound that can carry over the “bull pen” and it’s best to have certain policies in place to help reduce noise traffic.
  • Humidity is a factor as well. It shouldn’t be less than 40%. If your office is dry you might want to install a humidifier in your work space to help your voice stay moist.
  • Always sit upright with the correct posture. Sitting hunched over can cause you to sound muffled, which will result in you having to speak louder than necessary. How you carry yourself affects how you carry your voice. Standing tall and sitting up straight will make your voice sound as confident as you present yourself. 

Ask for help

If you experience a stubborn sore throat or your voice seems to have turned hoarse for no obvious reason, it’s time to pay a visit to your physician. Certain allergies can cause laryngitis and may develop at any time in a person’s life. Sometimes when that hoarseness sets in it could mean something more serious and life threatening.  

Throat cancer can easily go undetected until symptoms prove the condition is a life threatening one. Recognizing these symptoms and seeking medical attention can help in early detection and a successful recovery. If you feel that your loss of voice isn’t attributed to an infection or poor lifestyle choices, seek the help of a trained medical professional immediately.  

Give It A Rest

It’s easy to understand that there are several health conditions, lifestyle choices and work-related situations that can cause you to lose your voice, but you can take steps to prevent it from becoming lost. Practice good hygiene in order to safeguard yourself from infection. Exercise often to keep your immune system strong. Quit those bad habits, like smoking and drinking alcohol. You’ll sound and look a lot better for it. Stick to a customized, healthy diet and drink lots of water. Get plenty of rest and relax your vocal muscles. And, work with your supervisors or HR department to help create a working environment that is happy, healthy and helpful for all. 

If none of these steps help to improve your voices condition or if you notice recurrent laryngitis that isn’t attributed to any of the reasons discussed in this article, seek medical attention as soon as possible.  

 

Bailey Whitaker

Bailey Whitaker

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