Voice Problems


What are voice problems?

Voice problems usually include pain or discomfort when you speak or difficulty controlling the pitch, loudness, or quality of your voice.

As you exhale, air gently passes through your throat, across your open vocal cords, and out your mouth and nose. When you speak, your vocal cords close partially as air travels through them, causing vibrations and the unique sound of your voice. Your voice is the result of remarkable and complex interactions involving several body parts—especially the lungs, voice box (larynx), and mouth. Damage to any of these body parts can lead to a voice problem.

What causes voice problems?

Anyone can develop a voice problem, but your risk is greatest if your job puts a high demand on your vocal cords. For example, singers, preachers, and teachers have high-risk jobs. Aging also strains the vocal cords. If you scream or talk loudly, you increase your risk for voice problems. If you have ever had surgery on or near your vocal cords, are a smoker, or have had throat cancer, your risk for developing scar tissue and future voice problems increases as well.

What are the symptoms?

Generally, symptoms that indicate you may have a voice problem include:

  • A low, raspy, or rough voice.
  • Hoarseness that continues for more than 2 or 3 weeks.
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing, especially if you also have ear pain.
  • Coughing or choking when you swallow.
  • Frequent throat clearing or the sensation that you have a lump in your throat.

How are voice problems diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose a voice problem using information from a medical history and by performing a physical exam. Other tests may be done to evaluate vocal cord vibration or to detect suspicious areas in your throat. Additional testing doesn't necessarily mean you have a serious voice problem—it just helps your doctor pinpoint the cause of your voice problem.

How are they treated?

For many voice problems, resting your vocal cords is all that is needed, although this can be difficult for some people. If you have a more serious or chronic voice problem, you may need medicines, surgery, voice therapy, or a combination of these. Treatment frequently succeeds in restoring the voice to normal. But it may take some time for your voice to return to normal, depending on the severity and cause of your voice problem.

Is your voice change serious?

You might be one of those people who gets laryngitis every time you get the common cold. This is temporary and usually not serious. If your voice problem is accompanied by a cold and goes away within 2 to 3 weeks after your cold or flu is gone, it's probably nothing serious. If you feel concerned, you may want to see your doctor just to make sure.

But when unexplained changes in your voice continue for more than 2 or 3 weeks or interfere with your ability to communicate, you may have a more serious problem. For some people, the changes might get better but then reappear. If you notice a change in your voice, it's worth making an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation.

If your voice problems get better but then come back, it's worth making an appointment with your doctor for further evaluation.

Other Places To Get Help

Online Resource

Web Address: www.voiceproblem.org

Voiceproblem.org offers extensive information on various voice problems. The information is written by a group of expert voice surgeons from the United States. The site provides information on anatomy and physiology of voice production, how voice problems are diagnosed and treated, and ways to prevent them.

The site includes a quiz regarding your voice symptoms. Based on your answers, you will be given information about the types of voice problems that fit your symptoms and whether you need to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. (The quiz is not intended to diagnose your voice problem.)

You will also be given information on the types of doctors who treat voice problems and how to find a provider in your area.


American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)
1650 Diagonal Road
Alexandria, VA  22314-2857
Phone: (703) 836-4444
Web Address: www.entnet.org

The American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) is the world's largest organization of physicians dedicated to the care of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders. Its Web site includes information for the general public on ENT disorders.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
2200 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD  20850-3289
Phone: 1-800-638-8255
(301) 296-5700
Fax: (301) 296-8580
TDD: (301) 296-5650
E-mail: actioncenter@asha.org
Web Address: www.asha.org/public

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) promotes the interests of and provides services for professionals in audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech and hearing science. ASHA also advocates for people with communication disabilities. The Web site has information on related health topics, self-help groups, and finding a professional in your area.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
31 Center Drive, MSC 2320
Bethesda, MD  20892–2320
Phone: 1-800-241-1044
TDD: 1-800-241-1055
E-mail: nidcdinfo@nidcd.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nidcd.nih.gov

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, advances research in all aspects of human communication and helps people who have communication disorders. The Web site has information about hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech, and language.

Related Information


Other Works Consulted

  • Dambro MR (2006). Algorithms. In Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult, p. 1351. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Dambro MR (2006). Laryngitis. In Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult, pp. 626–627. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Schindler J, et al. (2008). Diseases of the larynx section of Ear, nose, and throat. In SJ McPhee et al., eds., Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2008, 47th ed., pp. 195–199. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Woodson G (2009). Hoarseness and laryngitis. In RE Rakel, ET Bope, eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2009, pp. 218–220. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.


Author Monica Rhodes
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Last Updated June 8, 2009

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