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Preventing and treating voice loss

Published on October 11, 2023 at 15:39

Having a hoarse voice is one thing, but losing your voice is quite another. Voice loss occurs when the vocal cords cannot make sounds. What causes voice loss, and what to do if it occurs? This article will answer these questions.

What is voice loss?

Also known as "aphonia," it's a partial or total loss of voice. Your voice may become hoarse, or you may be unable to speak altogether. Voice loss occurs when your vocal cords can no longer vibrate to produce sound. This is often caused by inflammation (swelling) that prevents movement of the vocal cords. Voice loss may be accompanied by a sore throat. However, you may lose your voice without having a sore throat.

What causes voice loss?

There are several possible causes. These include:

  • Laryngitis: This may be viral or bacterial in origin
  • Vocal overexertion (as after shouting too much at a sports match or show)
  • Smoking
  • A lesion in the vocal cords (such as nodules, cysts, polyps or tumours)
  • Allergies
  • Air pollution
  • A psychological cause (stress or post-traumatic shock)

Gastroesophageal reflux can also cause your voice to change, but it rarely leads to total voice loss.

How do I get my voice back?

Before thinking about a solution, finding the cause of the voice loss is essential. Antibiotics will be the solution if your voice loss is caused by bacterial laryngitis. It is, therefore, imperative to consult a medical professional to obtain a prescription. In this case, a throat swab will confirm the presence of bacteria and the need for an antibiotic. Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria, not viruses. So there's no point in taking an antibiotic if the swab shows no bacteria.

If gastroesophageal reflux is the cause, treatment is necessary. Treatments are available over the counter or by prescription, so don't hesitate to consult a healthcare professional.

In all cases, you need to give your voice some rest. Complete silence is best. People are often tempted to whisper, but whispering can increase pressure on the vocal cords.

Specific treatments can be tried to relieve sore throats. Home remedies for a sore throat include lemon, honey and saltwater gargles. Pharmacies also offer syrups, suppositories, lozenges and gargles. The main advantage of lozenges is that they stimulate salivation and moisturize your throat. Some products also contain antiseptics and anesthetics. If you opt for anesthetic lozenges, make sure you don't take them just before eating or drinking hot beverages. Finally, if the pain is severe, it is also possible to take pain-relieving medication. You can ask your pharmacist for advice. They can advise you on the most appropriate product for your situation.

When to consult a healthcare professional?

It is necessary to consult a health professional when you experience the following symptoms:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pink sputum
  • Difficulty eating or drinking
  • High, persistent fever
  • Whitish spots in the back of the throat
  • Sore throat lasting for more than 3 days

If your voice loss persists for over a week or occurs repeatedly, a consultation with a healthcare professional is also necessary.

What are the preventive measures?

One of the first steps to take is to avoid factors that can irritate the throat and vocal cords.  Simply put, avoid tobacco, excessive alcohol, shouting and allergens. Rest and hydration are also simple and effective preventive measures.

Infection prevention is also relatively simple. Hand-washing and respiratory hygiene can prevent contamination by a virus or bacteria, preventing laryngitis.

Maintaining sufficient humidity in the air can also have a beneficial effect. This means avoiding the overuse of air conditioning or overheating the house.  If, despite everything, the ambient air remains too dry, using a humidifier can be a great option. Following the instructions carefully and maintaining the unit properly is important. In fact, a poorly maintained humidifier could be a catalyst for infections.

Finally, as influenza can be a viral cause of laryngitis, getting your annual flu shot can safeguard you from infections. Talk to your pharmacist for more information.

When you lose your voice, you realize how important it is! Take care of it!

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