Why do you sometimes lose your voice when you have a serious cold?

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Why do you sometimes lose your voice when you have a serious cold?

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Losing your voice to the point that it’s painful or difficult to speak is actually fairly bad so you may want to consult a doctor as to why this is happening to you, if that’s why you’re asking, but I can give a short explanation as someone who has done vocal work:

Your voice is created by a set of “folds” in your larynx, which is just at the top of the part of your neck that you breathe out of. These folds are actually rather fragile and can be damaged by just yelling too loud, or in the case of colds, coughing a lot. These vocal folds work by vibrating, and can literally tear themselves apart. Singers are trained in a way to prevent this from happening, and those who were trained badly will suffer in later years. You may have heard of Adele [suffering recently from this exact problem](https://www.thelist.com/443300/the-truth-about-adeles-damaged-voice/).

The second factor of colds is that what we generally consider the common cold is actually a sinus infection. This causes your sinuses to produce way more mucus than usual, most of which drains down your throat. Some of this mucus can get into your larynx and clog up your vocal folds. If you’ve ever heard of having a frog in your throat then you know what I’m talking about.

Acute laryngitis or cold usually causes the vocal folds/chords to get swollen, tense and inflamed. How does this cause you to loose you voice (also called *aphonia* if it’s complete lack of voice, or intermittent aphonia if you loose you voice on separate instances)?

An important concept to understand first is: How do you produce your voice? Well voice can in the most simple way be described the following : *voice is air that sounds*. When we close the vocal chords towards each other and *increase air pressure* below them by exhaling: at a certain threshold of air pressure the vocal folds will separate from each other – and because they are also somewhat elastic (like a rubber band) they will move back towards each other. That is a simplified explanation of a single period of vocal chords vibrating! This cycle of moving away from each other (caused by air pressure below) and moving back to each other (elasticity) happens many times per second. Roughly 90-150 times per second in men and 160-220 times for women. It’s these multiple vibrations per second that creates the sound you hear – your voice.

Now the vocal folds are tiny structures and even the smallest minute change in their *mass* will have an effect the vocal chord vibration. How? Well if the *mass* increase (like get swollen when you have a cold) – you need to *increase air pressure* in order to separate them: more mass = higher air pressure. You are not used to do this because when you normally produce your voice, the amount of air pressure needed to separate the vocal folds is completely subconscious to you – you just do it. But when the vocal folds all of a sudden weigh more – you have to adjust air pressure consciously – just enough all the time. And this is way harder than one might think. If you adjust to little: the vocal folds won’t separate that moment = no vocal fold vibration= no period sound =aphonia. It’s actually not recommended to try to adjust to *force* you voice when you have a cold. Since they are fragile at this state you can actually damage them. So it’s better be aphonic and *relaxed* trying to speak – rather than forcing your voice.

edit: grammar.