Aphonia means "no voice."
In other words, a person with this disorder has "lost" his/her
voice. There are many reasons why this may happen. Basically, any injury
or condition that prevents the vocal cords (called vocal folds
in speech-language pathology), the paired bands of muscle tissue positioned
over the trachea (windpipe), from coming together and vibrating
will have the potential to make a person unable to speak. When a person
prepares to speak, the vocal folds come together over the trachea and
vibrate due to the airflow from the lungs. This mechanism produces the
sound of the voice. If the vocal folds cannot meet together to vibrate,
sound will not be produced. Aphonia may vary over time (i.e. become worse
at night, become better after sleep, occur sporadically for no apparent
In a common cold or flu (also called URI-upper
respiratory infection) or an allergy, the vocal folds may not meet
together to vibrate properly due to excessive mucous or general swelling
of throat tissues. Benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)
growths on the vocal folds would prevent vibrations of the vocal folds
by altering the straight shape of their edges. Neurogenic voice disorders
(disorders due to nerve or brain damage) include paralysis of the vocal
folds, a condition that would prevent the meeting of the folds for vibration
(i.e. one or both folds won't move). Spasmodic dysphonia (spasms
of the vocal folds) can cause the vocal folds to freeze in an open position,
preventing their coming together for vibration. Neurological disorders
such as myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease,
and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis involve the gradual destruction
of nerve tissue, which may cause vocal fold paralysis. Vocal fold paralysis
may also occur as the result of a disturbance in the function of nerves
that reach the larynx ("voice box"-contains the vocal
folds and other muscles, tissues) due to heart surgery; these nerves run
a course located near the heart.
aphonia persists beyond the duration of a common cold/flu, or begins in
the absence of a URI, it should be examined by a qualified professional.
Colds and allergies (if they are the source of aphonia) can be treated
easily by a physician or with over-the-counter medications. Usually, a
team approach is needed to treat this type of disorder (i.e., speech-language
pathologist, ear-nose-throat doctor or otolaryngologist, and a
physician). Surgery and therapy or either one of these may be recommended.
Therapy is usually brief.