“Voicebox” is a somewhat erroneous term. As a child, you might have interpreted the phrase literally and imagined that a mechanical looking cube sits at the center of your throat, in charge of all your vocalizations. Your actual voicebox is not really box-like at all and is a bit stranger.
When people use the phrase “voicebox,” they’re usually referring to an organ in your throat called the larynx. (Vocal cords would be a much more accurate term.) And your individual, unique voice is produced by your larynx.
As air passes through your trachea, your larynx causes that air to vibrate. Your voice is actually made of these vibrations. Your lips, tongue, and other soft tissues mold that voice into words and communication. But the tone comes from your larynx. And occasionally, your voice may become silenced by illness. You may try to speak but it comes out raspy, thin, or simply quiet.
This is normally caused by a condition called laryngitis.
What’s wrong with your voice
Picture your larynx as a tube with a couple of flaps inside. When air moves over these flaps, the velocity of that air causes them to vibrate. This vibration produces sound, and this sound is your voice. Your vocal cords work in the same way.
This deceptively basic function usually works perfectly. However, anything that interferes with that vibration will ultimately decrease the sound of your voice. Laryngitis is typically the cause.
But sometimes there can be other reasons that your vocal cords don’t want to function. A few of those other reasons may include the following:
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux)
- Neurological reasons
- Paralysis of the vocal cords
- Nodules or cysts on your vocal cords
- Damage to your vocal cords
Having said that, laryngitis is nearly always what’s causing your lost voice, so it seems logical to attempt to treat that first.
Laryngitis, what is it?
One of your body’s main defense mechanisms is inflammation and there are lots of reasons it can occur. When the vocal cords become inflamed laryngitis is the result. Normally, this swelling disrupts the usual functioning of your larynx. Your vocal cords can’t vibrate in a regular way when they get inflamed. As a result, the air passing through your trachea picks up no vibrations. In other words, you lose your voice!
This can occur because of injury or illness. So how does laryngitis occur? And what are the symptoms of laryngitis? Well, that depends on the type of laryngitis you’re experiencing. There are two standard categories of this particular voice-stealing ailment.
Acute laryngitis is the most prevalent form of laryngitis. This basically means that your affliction will last a standard amount of time. For most individuals, laryngitis will resolve itself within a few weeks. There’s not even anything you really need to do.
Some other illness or infection is usually the cause of acute laryngitis. Often, this includes:
- Sinus infections
- The common cold
Three weeks is the duration that ENTs generally expect acute laryngitis to improve, at most. If you give your voice adequate rest it will recuperate by itself.
If your laryngitis doesn’t go away in a few weeks like normal you could be dealing with chronic laryngitis. Symptoms of this disorder can continue for months. Typically, this long term form of laryngitis is due to the following:
- Infections and disease (like chronic sinus infections)
- Smoking (and yes, that includes vaping)
- Throat injuries (like a collision)
- To much shouting, screaming, singing, or other things that will stress your voice
- Exposure to irritants, like chemicals
- Irritation caused by medications
The root cause will dictate the treatment in these cases. In some cases, chronic laryngitis can eventually cause injury to the vocal cords or cause polyps or nodules to form on the larynx. So when is it time to visit your doctor? Well, once you pass that three week period (or get close to it) it’s a good time, or earlier if the discomfort is too much to take.
It’s important to call us for an assessment if your laryngitis doesn’t go away on its own, in other words.
In most instances, treatment for laryngitis occurs at home. Even when patients do nothing special or extra, the symptoms will usually go away by themselves within a few days to a few weeks. Home remedies for laryngitis are usually designed to reduce symptoms or improve your overall comfort. Here are a few of the most common:
- Drink lots of fluid and a good deal of water
- Warm salt water is good for inflammation so try gargling some
- Abstain from decongestants, as these will effectively dry out your throat
- Try not to talk too much so your voice will have time to rest and recover
- Keep the air moist by using a humidifier
We can suggest some treatments that may make you feel better and decrease swelling if your laryngitis doesn’t clear itself up in a couple of weeks. These treatments might include:
- Corticosteroids: This is a short-term solution if you quickly need to speak (maybe you have a big presentation coming up). The steroid treatment will help to reduce swelling and decrease the symptoms of your laryngitis. This is normally not meant as a long-term option, however.
- Antibiotics: This strategy isn’t exactly prevalent, laryngitis is not usually related to a bacterial infection, so antibiotics rarely do any good at all. Still, there are some cases where antibiotics are appropriate.
- Voice therapy: You might need to learn a new way of talking that’s less straining on your vocal cords if you have chronic laryngitis that just won’t go away. Voice therapy can help with that.
Your voice will return from vacation
It isn’t uncommon for people to experience laryngitis. Luckily, once the root condition is managed, your voice will usually return. Your immune system will usually take care of this on its own.
So it’s a smart idea to listen to what your body is saying when your voice begins to quit and vocal cords start to hurt. Your larynx is, after all, much cooler than a simple box and is also an important part of how you hear.
Call us for a consultation to discuss any concerns you might have.