Nasal Voice: What Causes It and Treatment Options

Published on: December 18, 2023
Upset woman sitting in an empty classroom.

Nasal voice, often characterized by a sound that is more resonant in the nasal passages than in the oral cavity, can result from various factors affecting the normal functioning of the vocal tract. If you notice your voice sounds nasally, it may be an indication of structural or health conditions.

A nasal-sounding voice can be a distracting trait that can affect communication and confidence. Many people with a nasal voice have had this condition all their life, while others may suddenly find themselves talking differently.

There are issues that can significantly impact speech quality, causing speech to sound nasally, congested, or hyper-nasal. Understanding the causes and available treatment options for a nasal voice can help individuals identify and address the underlying issues effectively.

Causes of Nasal Voice

There are many possible causes of a nasal voice, from congenital conditions to viral and bacterial infections or changes in the nasal structure. Determining the underlying cause can determine what can be done to improve speech quality. Some possible causes include:

  • Velopharyngeal Dysfunction (VPD): VPD occurs when the soft palate fails to close properly against the back of the throat during speech, leading to an abnormal connection between the nasal and oral cavities. This allows air and sound to escape through the nose, resulting in a nasal voice.
  • Nasal Obstruction or Congestion: Conditions such as allergies, sinus infections, deviated septum, nasal polyps or other nasal structural issues can obstruct the nasal passages. When air cannot flow through the nose, individuals may compensate by breathing through the mouth, resulting in a nasal voice.
  • Cleft Palate or Craniofacial Anomalies: Individuals born with cleft palate or other craniofacial anomalies might experience speech resonance issues due to an abnormal opening between the nasal and oral cavities. This is one of the possible causes of VPD.
  • Neurological Conditions: Some neurological disorders, such as cerebral palsy or certain types of paralysis, can affect the muscles involved in speech production, leading to velopharyngeal dysfunction and resulting in a nasal voice.
  • Surgery or Trauma: Injuries or surgeries involving the nose, throat, or oral cavity can sometimes cause scarring or changes in anatomy that impact speech resonance, leading to a nasal voice.

In some cases, there is not a structural issue that causes a nasal voice. Instead, it is a learned behavior. Regardless of the cause, there are treatment options that can help improve speech quality.

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Treatment Options for Nasal Voice

When trying to overcome a nasal-sounding voice, it is important to consider the cause. It may be difficult to change voice quality if there is an underlying structural issue contributing to the sound. However, conservative treatments are usually considered first before more invasive procedures.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy with a speech-language pathologist specializing in voice disorders is often the first line of treatment for individuals with a nasal voice. Therapy focuses on techniques to improve resonance, breath control and articulation, helping individuals develop better control over their speech muscles.

Velopharyngeal Insufficiency (VPI) Management

For VPI, specific interventions might include prosthetic devices (such as palatal lift or obturator) to improve the closure of the velopharyngeal port during speech. Surgical interventions, like pharyngeal flap surgery, may be considered for cases that do not respond to conservative measures.

Treatment of Underlying Conditions

Addressing underlying conditions causing nasal obstruction or congestion, such as allergy management, nasal decongestants or surgical correction of structural issues, can improve nasal airflow and subsequently reduce a nasal-sounding voice.


If the nasally sound is caused by inflammation in the nasal passages, medications can relieve a nasal-sounding voice. This includes antibiotics, decongestants, antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays that can help relieve the inflammation from allergies, bacterial infections and other nasal conditions.

Surgical Corrections

Surgical procedures may be necessary for conditions like a deviated septum, nasal polyps or craniofacial anomalies that significantly impact speech resonance. Septoplasty or rhinoplasty may be performed to change the nasal structure.

If the underlying condition is in the oral cavity, a cleft palate surgery may be recommended. Cleft palate repair surgeries aim to close the abnormal opening between the oral and nasal cavities, improving speech resonance.

Early intervention and tailored treatment plans can greatly improve speech resonance and restore normal speech quality for individuals experiencing a nasal-sounding voice. Surgery is often performed in children, followed by speech therapy to improve voice quality.

Voice Therapy Techniques

Voice therapy, focusing on altering the placement of the voice and modifying resonance, can be beneficial for individuals experiencing a nasal voice due to habitually speaking in a particular way.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

In severe cases where traditional therapies and surgeries are ineffective, AAC devices or methods, such as electronic speech-generating devices, can help individuals communicate effectively.
A doctor explaining treatment options and cheering up a concerned young man.

Nasal voice can significantly affect communication and quality of life. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial for determining the most appropriate treatment approach. Collaboration between otolaryngologists and other healthcare professionals is essential in managing the condition effectively.

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