“Voicebox” is a rather erroneous term. You may have, at one time in your life, envisioned your voicebox as a literal box inside of your throat. Your actual voicebox is not really box-like at all and is a bit stranger.
When people use the term “voicebox,” they’re usually describing an organ in your throat called the larynx. (voicebox is a lot easier to spell, but as far as common terms for your larynx go, “vocal cords” is a lot more precise.) And your individual, unique voice is produced by your larynx.
Your larynx vibrates the air going through your trachea. Your voice is actually made of these vibrations. Your voice is formed into the unique sound of your verbal enunciation by your lips and other soft mouth tissue. But the tone originates from your larynx. Which is why, periodically, you might run into illnesses or conditions that make you lose your voice. And your voice will sound raspy, thin or, simply fail to work at all.
This is normally the result of a condition called laryngitis.
Figuring out why you can’t talk
Think of your larynx as a couple of flaps inside a tube. When air passes over these flaps, the velocity of that air causes them to vibrate. This vibrating is the sound of your voice. That’s, essentially, how your vocal cords work!
This deceptively basic function normally works perfectly. However, anything that interferes with that vibration will ultimately minimize the sound of your voice. Often, and most commonly, the cause is laryngitis.
There are also other causes of vocal issues. Some of those other reasons might include the following:
- Damage to your vocal cords
- Neurological reasons
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux)
- Nodules or cysts on your vocal cords
- Paralysis of the vocal cords
That said, laryngitis is nearly always the cause of your lost voice, so it makes sense to try to address that first.
Laryngitis, what is it?
One of your body’s principal defense mechanisms is inflammation and there are lots of reasons it can happen. When the vocal cords become inflamed laryngitis is the result. The basic function of your larynx can be impeded by this swelling. Your vocal cords are unable to vibrate in a regular way when they become inflamed. No vibrations will be picked up by the air passing through your trachea as a result. You lose your voice in other words.
This can occur as a result of illness or injury. So how does laryngitis happen? Well, there are two basic forms of laryngitis and the symptoms will depend on which one you’re dealing with.
Acute laryngitis is the most prevalent form of laryngitis. Basically, this means that your symptoms will most likely fall within the normal begin-and-end dates of this ailment. For most individuals, laryngitis will resolve itself within a few weeks. You don’t even really have to do anything!
Some other illness or infection is normally the cause of acute laryngitis. Often, this includes:
- The common cold
- Sinus infections
If you’re dealing with acute laryngitis, you’ll probably experience symptoms that last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (three weeks is the standard that most ENTs will give you). If you give your voice adequate rest it will recover by itself.
If your laryngitis doesn’t improve in a few weeks like usual you could be experiencing chronic laryngitis. Symptoms of this disorder can last for months. Here are a few things that can trigger this disorder:
- Throat injuries (such as a collision)
- To much yelling, screaming, singing, or other things that will stress your voice
- Smoking (and yes, that includes vaping)
- Irritation caused by medications
- Infections and disease (like persistent sinus infections)
- Exposure to irritating chemicals
In these instances, the approach to treatment will depend on the inherent cause. Over time, polyps and other throat damage can be the result of chronic laryngitis. So when is it time to visit your doctor? Well, once you pass that three week mark (or get close to it) it’s a good time, or sooner if the pain is too much to take.
In other words, if your laryngitis doesn’t go away on its own, it’s important to make an appointment with us to figure out what’s happening!
How is laryngitis treated?
In the majority of instances, treatment for laryngitis takes place at home. Often, the symptoms will go away on their own after a couple of weeks without the patient having to do anything. Home remedies for laryngitis are usually made to minimize symptoms or improve your general comfort. Here are some of the most common:
- Avoid decongestants, as these will effectively dry out your throat
- Try not to talk very much so your voice will have time to rest and recuperate
- Keep the air moist by running a humidifier
- Drink lots of fluid and plenty of water
- Warm salt water is helpful for inflammation so try gargling some
We can recommend 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 may include:
- Antibiotics: This strategy isn’t exactly prevalent, laryngitis is not usually caused by a bacterial infection, so antibiotics rarely do much good at all. Still, there are rare cases where antibiotics may be appropriate.
- Voice therapy: You may need to learn a new way of talking that’s not so straining on your vocal cords if you have chronic laryngitis that just won’t clear itself up. Voice therapy can help with that.
- Corticosteroids: If you really need to speak (maybe you have a big presentation) this short-term option may be applied. The steroid treatment will help to lessen swelling and minimize the symptoms of your laryngitis. This is usually not meant as a long-term option, however.
You will get your voice back
It isn’t uncommon for people to experience laryngitis. And the good news is that your voice will (almost) always come back from this little vacation, especially once the underlying ailment is taken care of. Your immune system will usually take care of this on its own.
So when your vocal cords start hurting, and your voice starts to falter, it’s a good plan to listen to your body. Your larynx is, after all, a lot cooler than a simple box and is also an important part of how you hear.
Call us for a consultation to talk about any concerns you may have.