Voice Change Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your voice change symptoms, including 6 causes & common questions.

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Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your voice change

Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 6 Possible Voice Change Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. FAQs
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Statistics
  9. Related Articles
  10. References

Voice Change Symptoms

Having your voice change throughout your life is expected. Boys' voices, in particular, deepen during their teen years. However, experiencing a sudden voice change can indicate an illness. See a physician for severe or persistent voice changes as soon as possible. Voice changes are also called voice breaking, dysphonia, presbyphonia, or presbylaryngis.

Common characteristics of voice change

If you're experiencing a voice change, it will likely present with the following [1,2].

Characteristics in adolescent boys

In adolescent boys, a voice change may present with the following.

  • Squeaking, creaking sounds with speech
  • Sudden drops in pitch

Characteristics in older people

Older individuals experiencing a voice change will usually present with the following.

  • The voice becomes higher in men
  • The voice becomes deeper in women
  • The voice becomes thin: "Thinning" means the voice is softer and hard to hear in noisy environments.
  • The voice may become tremulous or "shaky"

When is it most likely to occur?

Sometimes voice changes are more noticeable early in the morning before you can clear your throat.

Is voice change serious?

The severity of your voice change depends on the cause.

  • Not serious: Voice changes due to anxiety or a cold are not severe. A counselor can help with anxiety and a cold will go away with proper treatment.
  • Moderately serious: A teenage boy whose voice does not change should see a physician for hormone testing and possible hormone therapy.
  • Serious: Some types of throat or laryngeal cancer cause persistent hoarseness. If your hoarseness lasts longer than two weeks, see a physician.

Voice Change Causes

Many conditions can cause the symptom of voice change [3,4]. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.

Hormone-related changes

Hormonal changes can lead to changes in voice [5,6].

  • Boys: The larynx (voice box) and vocal cords grow and rapidly change once puberty begins. This phenomenon is why the voice "breaks" in adolescent boys.
  • Girls: Voice changes affect girls, too. Their voices will also deepen and mature, just to a lesser degree.

Aging

Wear-and-tear that affects the rest of the body as you age also affect the vocal cords.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD): Also known as heartburn, this condition can irritate to the vocal cords.
  • Loss of muscle mass: This loss may affect the muscles that force air from the respiratory system through the voice box.
  • Diminished fine motor control: This control includes the vocal cords.
  • Hearing loss: This loss is common as you age and can make it difficult for you to hear your own voice. This difficulty may cause you to strain or change your voice.
  • Thinning of the mucous membranes: Thinning affects the shape and flexibility of the vocal cords.

Upper respiratory infection

A cold can cause swelling and inflammation of the vocal cords and result in mild laryngitis. Colds are commonly caused by viral infections or bacterial infections.

Bacterial growths on the vocal cords

Bacterial growths can change the voice by altering the shape and vibration of the cords. These growths may include polyps, nodules, or cysts.

Anxiety

Social anxiety can cause you to have difficulty breathing and feel as if your throat is closing up. This feeling can alter the voice or make it difficult to speak at all.

Rare and unusual causes

Causes that are considered rare include the following.

  • Neurological illnesses: These illnesses may cause a tremor in the voice, the same way they affect other nerves and muscles.
  • Throat or larynx cancer: This cancer can cause chronic hoarseness, vocal cord paralysis, and lumps in the neck [7].

6 Possible Voice Change Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced voice change. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Acid reflux disease (gerd)

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in infants refers to the passage of stomach contents into the throat causing troublesome symptoms, such as feeding intolerance, inadequate oral intake of calories and/or poor weight gain. Vomiting or visible regurgitation ...

Read more

Common cold

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, sinuses, throat, and larynx. There are over 200 viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections, and usually the exact virus behind a cold is never known.

The common cold is, of course, very common...

Read more

Myasthenia gravis (over 50)

Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the connection between nerves and muscles.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: weakness, general weakness, trouble swallowing, voice change, double vision

Urgency: In-person visit

Voice Change Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your voice change

Myasthenia gravis (under 50)

Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the connection between nerves and muscles.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: general weakness, trouble swallowing, weakness, voice change, double vision

Urgency: In-person visit

Acute bacterial sinusitis

Acute bacterial sinusitis, also called bacterial rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," has symptoms much like viral rhinosinusitis but a different treatment.

Any sinusitis usually begins with common cold viruses. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection takes hold. Like cold viruses, these bacteria can be inhaled after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Anyone with viral sinusitis, upper-respiratory allergy, nasal passage abnormality, lung illness, or a weakened immune system is more prone to bacterial sinusitis.

Symptoms include thick yellowish or greenish nasal discharge; one-sided pain in the upper jaw or teeth; one-sided sinus pain and pressure; fatigue; fever; and symptoms that get worse after first improving.

See a doctor right away for severe headache, high fever, stiff neck, or vision changes. These can indicate a medical emergency.

Diagnosis is made with a simple examination in the doctor's office.

Bacterial sinusitis can be treated with antibiotics, but this is not always necessary. Often rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants are enough.

Prevention is done through good lifestyle and hygiene to keep the immune system strong.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches

Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis: clear runny nose, being severely ill

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute viral sinusitis

Acute viral sinusitis, also called viral rhinosinusitis or "sinus infection," occurs when viruses take hold and multiply in the sinus cavities of the face.

It is most often caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and spreads the same way, through an infected person's coughing or sneezing.

Because children have small, underdeveloped sinuses, this illness is far more common in adults.

Symptoms include clear nasal discharge (not greenish or yellowish,) fever, and pain if facial sinuses are pressed.

If there is rash, severe fatigue, or neurologic symptoms (seizures, loss of sensation, weakness, or partial paralysis,) see a medical provider to rule out more serious conditions.

Diagnosis can usually be made through history and examination alone.

Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness. Therefore, treatment consists of rest, fluids, and fever/pain reducers such as ibuprofen. (Do not give aspirin to children.) Symptoms of viral sinusitis last for about seven to ten days. As with the common cold, the best prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion

Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis: sinusitis symptoms

Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis: being severely ill

Urgency: Self-treatment

Voice Change Treatments and Relief

Treatments can begin at home for voice changes, as long as symptoms are not severe. If symptoms persist and you cannot find relief, you should consult your physician.

At-home treatments

A few at-home remedies you can try to assess voice changes include the following [4].

  • Pursue better health and fitness overall
  • Maintain vocal cord fitness: Read out loud very clearly for a few minutes each day or sing, especially if your job requires you to speak a lot.

When to see a doctor

See a physician for chronic hoarseness or unexplained weakening or "thinning" of the voice, especially if it has lasted for more than two weeks. Your physician may recommend the following.

  • Surgery: A procedure may be needed if medical treatment alone cannot resolve the problem.
  • Voice therapy: A speech and language pathologist can help you improve the quality of your voice, especially in cases of social anxiety.

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you or someone you're with begins choking or has difficulty breathing.

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Once your story is reviewed and approved by our editors, it will live on Buoy as a helpful resource for anyone who may be dealing with something similar.

FAQs About Voice Change

Here are some frequently asked questions about voice changes.

Can essential tremor affect the voice?

Essential tremor is a rhythmic shaking, often inherited, that affects the arms and legs and, sometimes, the voice box and vocal cords. It can present as a constant, rhythmic change in your voice, affecting volume, pitch, and rhythm. Whispering is sometimes easier. Medication may be helpful in some cases.

Can laryngitis lead to permanent voice change?

Laryngitis — usually caused by a viral infection — is treated with voice rest and fluids. If you allow the vocal cords to heal, there is usually no permanent damage. However, if you try to force your voice to work while you have laryngitis, this can cause irreversible damage.

Can screaming or yelling, at a sporting event, for example, cause permanent voice change?

Even one episode of misusing your voice, such as hours of yelling at a sporting event, can cause irregular nodules to form on the vocal cords and change the sound of your voice. Ongoing misuse can cause permanent damage that will require voice therapy or surgery to correct.

Can a person lose the ability to sing, but still speak normally?

It's possible for frequent speakers, such as singers or lecturers, to develop small, irregular nodules on their vocal cords. These nodules make it difficult to sing, but speaking will be possible even though it may differ in quality.

Is it serious if I have both voice change and difficulty swallowing?

In rare cases, voice changes and difficulty swallowing are signs of a tumor. However, these symptoms often occur together as part of a swallowing disorder and are common in older or elderly people. Swallowing disorders are caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD or heartburn), dental issues, poorly fitted dentures, vocal cord paralysis, and scar tissue present after throat surgery.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Voice Change

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Do you have a cough?
  • Do you have a sore throat?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your voice change. These questions are also covered.

Voice Change Quiz

Voice Change Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced voice change have also experienced:

  • 12% Hoarse Voice
  • 4% Cough
  • 3% Sore Throat

People who have experienced voice change were most often matched with:

  • 55% Myasthenia Gravis (Over 50)
  • 33% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
  • 11% Common Cold

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Voice Change Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your voice change

References

  1. Huntzinger A. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Hoarseness. American Family Physician. 2010;81(10):1292-1296. AAFP Link
  2. Kim JE, Rasgon B. The Hoarse Patient: Asking the Right Questions. The Permanente Journal. 2010;14(1):51-53. NCBI Link
  3. Feierabend RH, Malik SN. Hoarseness in Adults. American Family Physician. 2009;80(4):363-370. AAFP Link
  4. Freeborn D, Kacker A. Voice Disorders. University of Rochester Medical Center. URMC Link
  5. Pederson M, Agersted ABA, Jonsson A. Aspects of Adolescence and Voice: Girls Versus Boys - A Review. Journal of Child and Adolescent Behavior. 2015;3:211. OMICS Link
  6. Hari Kumar KV, Garg A, Ajai Chandra NS, Singh SP, Datta R. Voice and Endocrinology. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2016;20(5):590-594. NCBI Link
  7. Signs and Symptoms of Laryngeal and Hypopharyngeal Cancers. American Cancer Society. Updated November 27, 2017. American Cancer Society Link

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