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Curious Kids: why might you wake up without a voice?

Why do you lose your voice approximately 12 hours after you scream too much? If I scream a lot one day the next morning I can barely speak. However, I can speak right after I scream. Kheenav, age 11, from Glen Waverley, Victoria

Hi Kheenav, thank you for your question!

First, I’ll explain a bit about your voice. Then we can look at what happens after shouting or screaming.

How does your voice work?

When you talk, sing, shout, or scream, the voice sounds you make happen because of the very fast vibration of your vocal cords.

These vocal cords are two small folds of muscle in your voice box which is in the front of your neck.

Your vocal cords make sound by vibrating many times each second.

If you gently put your fingers around your voice box and say “ahhh”, you will feel your vocal cords vibrating.

See if you can feel the vibration. Shutterstock

If you then say “ahhh” and make your voice go up and down, you will feel your voice box go up and down.

Your voice works hard

When you make sounds, your vocal cords open and close many times each second (move apart and together again) to make the air vibrate.

The opening and closing is like putting your palms together, and then separating them but keeping the tips of your fingers touching. Each opening and closing is one vibration.

Vocal cords: the first is open, the second is closed

Shutterstock

A grown man’s vocal cords open and close about 120 times each second when singing “ahhh”.

A kid’s vocal cords open and close more times per second than an adult’s. Their vocal cords are also smaller. This is why children’s voices sound higher.

As an 11 year old boy, your vocal cords will open and close about 237 times each second when you sing “ahhh”. This means if you said “ahhh” for a minute, that would be 14,220 vibrations!

An hour of voice would be 853,200 vibrations!

Now think how much you normally talk, and you can see that your vocal cords are vibrating many thousands of times over a whole day.


Read more: Curious Kids: how do voices come out of our mouths?


So what happens when you shout or scream?

When you yell or scream, you are bashing your vocal cords together extra hard with each vibration. This can make you get a hoarse voice.

If you imagine doing that with your hands many times over, they would get red, sore and swollen.

This is what is happening to your vocal cords. They can’t vibrate properly when they are swollen so the sound of your voice will change.

Your age affects how your voice sounds. Shutterstock

Sometimes, the swelling and soreness continues to develop for a few hours after screaming.

This is why you might be able to talk right after yelling but only notice losing your voice the next day.

Now what?

The best thing you can do if you wake up having lost your voice is to be gentle with your voice, talk less, talk quietly (but not whispered as this can also push your cords together) and drink plenty of water.

Walk over to someone to talk to him or her rather than yell across a distance. Talking over noise means you are probably shouting without realising it so try not to talk loudly.


Read more: Curious Kids: Why do we have tonsils?????


With these changes, your voice should return to normal.

If it is not better after a couple of days, go and see your doctor just to make sure there is no medical reason for your voice problem.

Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.au

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