December 31, 2020

Voice Changes: What Can They Tell You as You Age?

How hormones and aging alter your acoustics

elderly man touching throat

During puberty, surprising cracks and unexpected squeaks can signal changes in your voice. Later on, as you age, you may notice other changes, such as weakening of the voice.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What’s behind these vocal shifts, and what do they say about your health?

“Lack of a voice change in boys who grow up can signal a problem,” says Claudio Milstein, PhD. “Weakening of the voice later in life may point to health issues as well.”

So it makes sense to listen to your changing voice and report any concerns to your doctor.

Your voice during puberty

Puberty is a process of sexual maturation. A voice change is one of the secondary sexual characteristics adolescents develop. In boys, this happens between ages 12 and 16; in girls, between ages 10 and 14.

The first sign of puberty in girls is breast development, while in boys it’s an increase in the size of the testicles. As this is happening, the voice tends to change as well.

“Before puberty, your larynx, or voice box, sits higher in the neck. As you go through puberty, the larynx grows and moves down lower in the neck,” explains Dr. Milstein. “Your vocal folds (cords) also thicken and enlarge.”

This change is more noticeable in boys. “They develop the typical jumping pitch, and their voices can suddenly drop about an octave lower,” he says.


Girls’ voices also change as they mature, but less dramatically. Their pitch drops only about three tones.

This process may take up to a year. Usually, by age 17, the voice fully stabilizes. If a teen’s voice hasn’t changed by that time and other secondary sexual characteristics have not developed, hormonal issues may be at play.

“Check with your child’s pediatrician if there is no change in voice, no growth, no lowering of the testicles in boys, no breast development in girls and no development of body hair,” says Dr. Milstein.

Your voice later in life

Unlike puberty, when everyone’s voice changes, voice changes with aging are not universal, Dr. Milstein says. There are two main reasons why your voice may change with age:

1. An aging vocal mechanism. The most common cause of a voice change later in life is aging of the voice box and the respiratory system that powers the voice.

Aging may bring a loss of flexibility. The joints of the larynx may become stiff, and its cartilage may calcify. The vocal cords may lose muscle tone, flexibility and elasticity, and dry out. Sometimes, the muscles of the larynx can atrophy, become thinner and weaker. Your ribs may become more calcified. Your torso may shrink, and your lungs may become smaller, stiffer and less pliable.

All of these changes may weaken the voice, Dr. Milstein says.


2. A decline in overall health status. Sometimes, a voice change can herald a developing medical problem. For example, chronic fatigue and neurological problems can cause a shaking, or tremor, in the voice. The voice can also change because of benign (nodules, polyps) or malignant lesions (cancer), or if one of the vocal folds becomes paralyzed.

Rejuvenating the voice

A diminishing voice sometimes leads to a less active social life.

“If it’s difficult for others to hear and understand you, you may not want to sing in church, volunteer, or go out with friends,” he says. “When you become more socially isolated, your quality of life drops. This can lead to depression and affect overall health.”

But that doesn’t have to happen. If you’re having voice issues, it’s wise to be evaluated by a voice specialist, a laryngologist, or a speech pathologist with expertise in voice.

“We’ll examine your vocal cords to determine the problem,” he says. “Thanks to modern science and technology, many treatments can make your voice sound better.” These include:

  • Voice rehabilitation therapy: Daily voice exercises to strengthen voice production.
  • Vocal cord microsurgery: A treatment for vocal cord lesions, such as polyps or cysts.
  • Vocal fold injections: Injections to plump up the vocal cords.
  • Voice implants: Implants to stabilize the vocal cords.

“Once we rejuvenate the voice, communication and quality of life improve. We find that patients socialize more and participate in more activities,” says Dr. Milstein.

Related Articles

Pregnant person with yellow glow emanating from them.
December 6, 2023
Is Pregnancy Glow a Real Thing?

More radiant skin may appear due to physiological responses to pregnancy

Natural antibiotics, pills and herbs, displayed on bamboo spoons on wooden table.
December 5, 2023
Why You Shouldn’t Self-Treat With ‘Natural Antibiotics’

Natural doesn’t mean they’re safe or effective

Female swimmer in the water at edge of a pool
December 1, 2023
Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer?

Physical activity and weight management can minimize your chances of getting the disease

Two people standing in the cold.
November 29, 2023
10 Colds Not To Catch This Winter

The flu, RSV, COVID-19, pneumonia and more typically circulate during cold weather months

Parent breastfeeding baby on bed, against the headboard.
November 27, 2023
Looking for Foods To Increase Your Milk Supply? Think Big Picture

No single food will increase your milk, but an overall healthy diet will help

Parent uses manual baby aspirator to open up nasal passages of baby.
November 22, 2023
Prevent Phlegm in Your Baby’s Throat With a Nasal Aspirator

Keeping your baby’s airways clear of mucus helps with breathing and feeding

Two different vaccines and needles displayed in foreground.
November 22, 2023
Which Vaccines Can You Get at the Same Time?

Getting routine vaccinations together can save you time and may be more effective

Muffins and sweetbreads with frosting on trays at bakery.
November 22, 2023
13 Foods That You Didn’t Know Contain Dairy

Be sure to check the labels of common foods like canned tuna, bread, hot dogs and chocolate

Trending Topics

group of hands holding different beverages
November 14, 2023
10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating

Coffee won’t cure a hangover and you definitely shouldn’t mix your cocktail with an energy drink

Person applies moisturizer as part of their skin care routine after a shower.
November 10, 2023
Korean Skin Care Routines: What You Need To Know

Focus on the philosophy — replenishing and respecting your skin — not necessarily the steps

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
November 8, 2023
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try