5 things that cause you to lose your voice and ways to get it back

Have you ever lost your voice? Do you know what happens to your vocal cords?

Our vocal cords are located within the Adam's apple (thyroid cartilage) in the middle of our neck.

Production of sound happens when air from the lungs passes through the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate. These vibrations are invisible to the naked eye (about 100-250 times per second). The sound produced from these vibrations is amplified through our resonance chambers (nose and the mouth).

When we use our voice excessively or in an abusive manner, our vocal cords can become swollen and inflamed, occasionally causing bleeding. The result is hoarseness, pain in the throat, a change in the pitch at which we talk, inability to sing high notes, or even loss of voice.

Sinus infections and nasal allergies may also block our resonance chambers (nose and the mouth) and affect our ability to project our voice. Vocal cords can become injured by excessive use and abuse. Common afflictions include vocal nodules, polyps, cysts, laryngitis (inflammation) and vocal haemorrhage (bleeding).

Senior Consultant ENT Surgeon, Dr Paul Mok, from My ENT Specialist Clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre and a member of the Alliance Healthcare network, shares five things that can cause you to lose your voice and how you can get it back.

1. Voice Misuse and Abuse

All of us have experienced some degree of voice loss, typically after we shout, cheer, and sing excessively at events such as parties or camps. In most cases, the body can easily heal minor injuries in the vocal cords, but recurrent vocal trauma can lead to vocal nodules (calluses on the vocal cord), vocal polyps, vocal cysts and vocal swelling.

Sometimes, blood vessels in the vocal cord can burst suddenly and cause bleeding (vocal haemorrhage). This usually causes a sudden loss of voice and is a vocal emergency that should be treated immediately.

- What should you do?

Rest and minimise talking. Do not whisper. Use a pen and paper to communicate if necessary. If you do not recover after one week, make an appointment to see an ENT doctor. Your doctor will perform a videostroboscopy on you with a flexible nasendoscope to make an accurate diagnosis. Starting on the appropriate treatment early will help you recover faster.

If you lose your voice suddenly and suspect a vocal haemorrhage, avoid talking completely and make an appointment to see an ENT surgeon immediately. Although not life-threatening, continued use of your voice can cause your vocal cords to become stiff and swollen. It may take a longer time to heal.

2. Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (common cold)

When we catch a cold, we often experience a blocked nose, or nasal congestion. In certain cases, we may develop thick yellow-green phlegm and start coughing. A blocked nose affects our ability to project our voice, causing extra strain when talking. Clearing our throat from the phlegm that drips into our throats makes our vocal cords more inflamed.

- What should you do?

If you come down with a cold and start experiencing the symptoms listed above, get medical treatment early. If your cough and hoarseness of voice persist for more than two weeks, you may want to visit an ENT doctor.

Typically, loss of voice (acute laryngitis) may take 3-5 days to heal so allow yourself several days to recover. If your job involves a lot of talking, going back to work too early when your voice is still hoarse could result in long term damage to your voice.

3. Acid Reflux

Loss of voice may also occur due to acid reflux. Acid reflux happens when acid from the stomach comes up into the throat and injure the mucosal lining. This may be perceived as a lump in the throat, throat phlegm, cough and hoarseness.

Typically, these symptoms occur within half an hour of eating or lying down soon after a meal. Acid reflux sufferers often have a history of gastric pain and frequent burping. Certain foods are associated with the increased frequency of acid reflux, such as fried, oily food, dairy products, caffeinated beverages and alcohol as well as acidic foods like oranges, lemons and grapes.

- What should you do?

Avoid reflux-causing foods and lying down in bed within three hours of eating. Medication can also help to prevent reflux. If symptoms persist, make an appointment to see an ENT doctor.

4. Persistent blocked nose or runny nose due to allergies

Loss of voice can also happen due to frequent throat clearing and coughing as a result of allergies.

Patients with nasal allergies often experience nasal congestion, sneezing or a "runny" nose. The mucus in the nose frequently back-drips into the throat and causes discomfort.

- What should you do?

If your nose is frequently congested, first visit your family doctor for treatment. If symptoms persist, or if your voice is affected, it may be beneficial to visit an ENT surgeon who will perform a skin prick test to confirm your allergies. Sorting out your nasal allergies will help relieve any voice-associated problems too.

5. Vocal Cord Cancer

Lastly, a serious cause of voice loss is vocal cord cancer. Vocal cord cancer usually presents itself as persistent and progressive hoarseness. If the symptoms are ignored, breathing may become progressively more difficult.

The risk of developing cancer is 30 times greater in patients who consume alcohol and smoke regularly.

- What should you do?

To minimise the risk of cancer, avoid smoking and drinking alcohol regularly. If you have hoarseness that does not recover in two weeks, you should make an appointment to see an ENT surgeon.

This advertorial was jointly brought to you by Aviva and Alliance Healthcare.

As part of a collaboration between Aviva and Alliance Healthcare, Aviva MyShield customers can enjoy expedited appointments - within 3 working days - with over 200 medical specialists. Nine out of 10 specialists in this network have at least 12 years of medical experience.

Here is a list of ENT specialists within the network that you may contact if you require treatment for losing your voice or other voice problems:

Network of invited specialists managed by Alliance Healthcare Group

Medical Specialists

Specialist Clinics

Chan Kwai Onn

  • K O Chan Ear Nose Throat Sinus & Sleep Centre

Chao Siew Shuen

  • ENT & Sinus Centre

Chew Khet Kuen

  • K K Chew Ear, Nose & Throat Surgery

Dharambir Singh Sethi

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Parkway East)

Goh Hood Keng Christopher

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Parkway East)

Hobbs Christopher Geoffrey Laurence

  • Nobel ENT Head, Neck & Thyroid Surgery Centre

Jeevendra Kanagalingam

  • The ENT Clinic Pte Ltd

Lee Cheow Yew Julian

  • Julian Lee Ear Nose Throat Specialist

Lim Ing Ruen

  • Lim Ing Ruen ENT Pte Ltd

Low Wong Kein Christopher

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Parkway East)

Mok Kan Hwei Paul

  • My ENT Specialist Pte Ltd

Ravi Seshadri @ Srinivasan

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Mount Elizabeth Novena)

  • Novena ENT Head & Neck Surgery Specialist Centre (Parkway East)

Soh Boon Keng Kevin

  • Ear, Nose & Throat Partners

Stanley Ralph Ernest

  • Stanley ENT & Sinus Centre

Tay Su-Lin Valerie

  • SMG ENT Centre Ear Nose Throat Face Neck

*The specialist listing published above is accurate as of 11 July 2016.

To view the full list of all specialists or make an appointment, go to www.aviva.com.sg/health-first.

Aviva Ltd is not an agent, partner or in a joint-venture relationship with Alliance Healthcare Group. Alliance Healthcare ("AH" which expression shall include its Selection Committee and its related corporations) is not an agent of any of the above medical specialists nor are any of the medical specialists an agent of AH. Aviva Ltd or AH makes no representation or warranty whatsoever to the quality of the healthcare or services provided, and assumes no liability or responsibility for the acts, omissions or defaults of the clinics, specialist or any person providing the services. Claims eligibility is subject to the terms and conditions of the policy.