How the Voice Works and What Makes it Stop Working

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Ear, Nose and Throat, Uncategorized

Did you know that your voice is entirely unique to you, just like a fingerprint? Not only are the shape and size of each individual’s vocal cords different, but the vocal tract and the size and shape of the rest of your body, the position of your tongue, your bone structure, and your habits in how you form sounds are all individual factors that combine to produce your perfectly unique voice. Because the production of the human voice is such an intricate process, there are a number of things that can lead to losing your voice.

How Does the Voice Work—And What Makes it Stop Working?

How does voice work - C/V ENT Surgical GroupThe mechanics of the human voice involve use of the lungs, vocal cords within the larynx (also known as the voice box), and a number of vocal organs above the larynx, known as “articulators”, including your lips, teeth, tongue and hard palate. The lungs produce airflow and air pressure which causes the vocal cords to vibrate. Muscles in the larynx adjust the vocal cords to change the pitch and tone of the voice, and the articulators filter and refine the sound of your voice.

When the vocal cords become inflamed because of illness or overuse, it’s called laryngitis. Laryngitis can lead to hoarseness or near-total voice loss. A single case of laryngitis which doesn’t last very long is considered “acute laryngitis”. “Chronic laryngitis” is when the condition is longer-lasting or persistent.

Below, we break down some common reasons why people develop laryngitis or other voice disorders which cause voice loss.

Common Illness and Allergies

A regular cold is a common reason many people lose their voice. Inflammation of the throat can impact the normal vibration of the vocal cords (also called vocal folds) when you speak, leading to hoarseness, a scratchy voice, or even losing your voice. Similarly, sinusitis and allergies can lead to inflamed vocal folds because of post-nasal drip, coughing, and throat-clearing. Unfortunately, common over-the-counter medications such as decongestants and antihistamines can actually lead you to lose your voice as well—because these medications dry up mucus, they can sometimes cause your vocal folds to become too dry.

Voice Misuse

Voice misuse or abuse is another frequent culprit of voice loss. Yelling or talking loudly for extended periods of time or singing can lead to voice disorders such as vocal cord lesions, including polyps or nodules. Excessive coughing or habitual throat clearing can also place stress on the vocal cords leading to hoarseness, scratchiness, or voice loss. Lifestyle factors such as smoking and alcohol use can also cause vocal cord strain leading to vocal cord lesions.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a common chronic disorder in which stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. It can sometimes cause a great deal of discomfort and the acid can often irritate vocal cords, causing sore throat, hoarseness and even losing your voice. Irritation of the vocal cords caused by GERD, heartburn or acid reflux is known as reflux laryngitis.

Thyroid Disorders

Your thyroid gland sits very near your vocal cords in your neck. A goiter (enlarged thyroid) or a growth on the thyroid can lead to vocal cord strain, including hoarseness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder causing swelling, stiffness, and pain in your joints—including in the small joints of your face and throat. Nearly a third of people who have RA also experience a voice disorder, often including losing their voice.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is a condition affecting the central nervous system, causing tremors, stiffness, and balance problems. Because the vocal cords are muscles, they can be impacted by Parkinson’s and, as the disease progresses, people with Parkinson’s Disease can have difficulty with speech. The vast majority of people with Parkinson’s develop a voice disorder.

Should I Contact a Doctor if I Lose My Voice?


It’s a good idea to contact a doctor if you experience symptoms of a voice disorder, including hoarseness, voice scratchiness, voice breathiness, voice breaking, or losing your voice for more than two weeks. Other signs of a

At C/V ENT Surgical Group, we serve the greater Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks areas and treat a number of voice disorders. If you have lost your voice or have other concerns about a voice disorder, we conduct a thorough history and examination, which may include laryngoscopy, an exam of the vocal cords to determine the cause of your voice disorder. Vocal cord disorder or problem include persistent ear-to-ear, throat, or neck pain; trouble breathing; a sore throat that doesn’t go away; a lump in the neck; or pain when swallowing.

Because there are many different reasons why people may lose their voice, treatments for voice loss will vary. For some acute, minor cases, resting the voice and staying hydrated is all that is needed. In other cases, vocal cord surgery may be necessary.

After an examination, the experts at C/V ENT Surgical Group can plan a proper treatment course, tailored to your specific needs.