Voice cracks can happen no matter your age, gender, or whether you’re a teenager in class, 50-something executive at work, or a professional singer on stage. All humans have voices — with rare exceptions — and so all humans can experience voice cracks.
Why, though? Here’s a little background that may help.
The tone and volume of your voice results from a combination of:
- air rushing from your lungs
- vibrations of two parallel pieces of tissue called the vocal folds or vocal cords
- muscular movements in and around your larynx, commonly called the voice box
When you speak or sing and change your pitch and volume, the laryngeal muscles open and close as well as tighten and loosen your vocal folds.
When your voice goes high, the folds are pushed close together and tightened. When your voice goes low, they’re pulled apart and loosened.
Voice cracks happen when these muscles suddenly stretch, shorten, or tighten. Many causes can be responsible for a crack, so let’s help you figure out which one describes your case, and what you may be able to do about it.
Here’s an overview of some of the most common causes of voice cracks.
This is the most common cause of voice cracks.
This type of voice crack is also completely normal. When boys (and girls, to a lesser extent) go through puberty, hormone production increases drastically to help growth and development of new features, known as secondary sexual characteristics.
This includes growing hair in places like your underarms and groin as well as developing breasts and testicles.
A few things are happening to your voice box during this time, too:
- the larynx moves down in your throat
- your vocal folds get bigger and thicker
- the muscles and ligaments around the larynx grow
- mucus membranes around the vocal folds separate into new layers
This sudden change in size, shape, and thickness can destabilize your vocal cord movements when you speak. This makes the muscles more likely to suddenly tighten or lose control, resulting in a crack or squeak, as you learn to get used to the new anatomical arrangement in your throat.
2. Pushing your voice higher or lower
The pitch of your voice results from the movement of the cricothyroid (CT) muscle. As with any other muscle, the CT muscle is best used slowly, carefully, and with training. If you use it too abruptly or without warming it up, the muscle can tighten and become hard to move.
With the CT muscle in particular, if you try to aggressively increase or decrease your pitch, or even raise or lower your volume without doing some vocal exercises, the laryngeal muscles can tighten, loosen, expand, or shrink too quickly.
This makes your voice crack as the CT muscle moves quickly trying to transition between high and low pitch or volume.
3. Vocal cord lesions
Speaking, singing, or screaming for long periods of time can irritate your vocal folds and even damage this tissue, resulting in injuries known as lesions.
Nodules can affect your vocal fold flexibility and size. This can lead to squeaks and cracks as your vocal folds have difficulty producing normal sounds.
This one’s pretty straightforward: Your vocal folds need to be moist in order to move properly.
If you haven’t had any water or other liquids in a while, the vocal folds can’t move as smoothly and may irregularly change size or shape as you speak or sing.
You can also get dehydrated from drinking caffeine and alcohol, which are both diuretics that make you have to urinate more, or by sweating a lot without staying hydrated. This can all result in voice cracks, hoarseness, or raspiness.
Laryngitis is inflammation of your vocal folds or laryngeal muscles. This is usually caused by a viral infection, but it can also happen if you just use your voice a lot.
Laryngitis usually lasts for only a short time if it’s due to overuse or infection. But inflammation due to long-term causes, like air pollution, smoking, or acid reflux, can cause chronic laryngitis that may result in irreversible injury to your vocal folds and larynx.
Being nervous or anxious causes muscles throughout your body to tense up.
This can include your laryngeal muscles. When the muscles tighten or become tense, they don’t move as freely. This restricts the movement of your vocal folds. This can result in strains or cracks when you speak as the folds struggle to move as pitch and volume changes.
If your cracking is due to puberty, you don’t need to worry. You’ll probably stop cracking when you hit your early 20s, if not earlier. Everyone’s development is different — some might settle on their adult voice as early as 17 or 18, while others may still crack well into their mid-20s.
If your voice cracks result from other causes, here are some tips to minimize or stop them:
- Drink plenty of water. Drink at least 64 ounces a day to keep your throat moist and yourself hydrated, especially if you live in a dry climate like a desert. If you sing or talk a lot, drink room-temperature water, as cold water can limit laryngeal muscle movement.
- Avoid changing your volume suddenly. This could be from an “inside voice” to a scream or yell.
- Warm your voice up with vocal exercises. This will help if you plan to sing, speak in public, or talk for extended periods of time.
- Try breathing exercises. These can help you maintain control over your volume, airflow, and lung capacity.
- Use cough drops, lozenges, or cough medication. This helps, especially if a persistent cough or laryngitis are wearing out your throat due to overuse or fatigue.
Preventing voice cracks from happening may require some lifestyle changes. Here are some approaches you can try to minimize voice cracks:
- Limit or quit smoking. Chemicals in tobacco or nicotine products as well as heat from many tobacco products can also injure your throat.
- Reduce stress and anxiety. Nerves causing your voice to crack? Do whatever makes you feel calm and relaxed before you speak or sing, such as meditating, listening to music, or doing yoga.
- See a speech specialist. Preventing cracks may be simply a matter of learning how best to use your voice. A specialist like a speech-language pathologist can identify any clinical issues or bad habits you experience when you speak, and teach you how to use your voice in a safe, intentional way.
- Train with a voice coach. A voice coach can help you learn to sing or speak in public using professional techniques for adjusting pitch, volume, and projection that protect your vocal folds and laryngeal muscles.
Voice cracks every now and then shouldn’t worry you, especially if you’re young and generally in good health.
If your voice cracks constantly, even if you take preventive measures to keep your vocal cords healthy and hydrated, see your doctor to diagnose any underlying issues that may be affecting your vocal cords. Issues like nodules or neurological disorders like vocal dysphonia can keep you from speaking or singing properly.
In some cases, nodules can become so large that they block your airways, making it hard to breathe.
Here are some other symptoms to watch for that should warrant a trip to the doctor:
- pain or tension when you speak or sing
- persistent cough
- feeling like you need to clear your throat all the time
- coughing up blood or abnormally colored phlegm
- hoarseness that lasts for weeks or longer
- persistent feeling of a lump in your throat
- trouble swallowing
- losing the ability to speak or sing in your normal range
Your voice can crack for a variety of reasons. But there’s no need to worry, especially if you’re going through puberty or have just been talking a lot.
See your doctor if you notice any long-term changes in your voice or overall health that’s resulted in constant voice cracking. They can diagnose the cause, if necessary, and provide you with treatment options.