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Symptoms and Causes of Functional Dysphonia

Symptoms of functional dysphonia

There are a variety of symptoms associated with functional dysphonia and these differ from person to person. However, those listed below are fairly typical. Of course, you don’t have to experience each one of these to be experiencing a functional voice difficulty.

  1. hoarseness, huskiness, roughness or breathiness
  2. voice is too deep or too high
  3. pitch range is more restricted
  4. voice is variable and deteriorates with use
  5. voice may ‘go’ altogether
  6. difficulty making yourself heard (see loudness)
  7. having to work quite hard to produce voice
  8. throat feels dry and sore
  9. breathing is a little uncoordinated

Causes of functional dysphonia

Which of the following do you think contribute to a functional voice difficulty?

  1. emotional stress
  2. drinking cold water
  3. breathing from the diaphragm
  4. yelling and shouting
  5. irritants (dust, fumes, chemical agents)
  6. breathing humid air
  7. speaking in a strained way
  8. clearing the throat
  9. talking during a throat infection
  10. talking quickly
  11. acid reflux (heartburn)
  12. smoking


  1. emotional stress TRUE
  2. drinking cold water FALSE
  3. breathing from the diaphragm FALSE
  4. yelling and shouting TRUE
  5. irritants (dust, fumes, chemical agents) TRUE
  6. breathing humid air FALSE
  7. speaking in a strained way TRUE
  8. clearing the throat TRUE
  9. talking during a throat infection TRUE
  10. talking quickly FALSE
  11. acid reflux (heartburn) TRUE
  12. smoking TRUE

We can expand on the above, as follows.

High-risk occupations

Teachers, people who work in call centers, sales representatives, and others whose jobs have high vocal demands are at risk.

“It’s just the way I’m built”

Just as some people are natural athletes and others aren’t, some people’s voice boxes are better able to perform certain vocal tasks than others: everyone has their own limitations.


This can make a functional voice difficulty worse. The effect varies from person to person and depends on your personality type: some people are more extrovert than others; some people cope better with stress than others.

Poor vocal technique

Most people cope with a poor vocal technique for short periods of increased vocal demands, as long as they have enough time to recover. However, if the vocal demands continue for too long, or are too intense, this can lead to difficulties.


Exposure to dust, fumes, chemical agents and smoke – as well as smoking yourself – can all lead to difficulties. Acid reflux (heartburn), certain medications and allergies may also affect the vocal folds.

Throat infections

Whilst not strictly a primary cause, it is not uncommon for people to experience functional voice difficulties following a heavy cold or flu, and laryngitis.

Further reading

Understanding the main symptoms and causes of voice difficulties is the first step in alleviating the effects of functional dysphonia. The six recommended steps are:

Symptoms and causes of functional dysphonia

1. Understanding symptoms and causes of functional dysphonia (this article)

Voice production

2. Understanding voice production

Improving vocal habits

3. Improving vocal habits

Effective voice production

4. Using effective voice production techniques

Managing the speaking environment

5. Managing the speaking environment

Maximizing your physical and emotional health

6. Maximizing your physical and emotional health