Hoarseness is a non-specific term that signifies that a voice is abnormal. When experiencing hoarseness, a person’s voice may sound breathy, raspy, strained, or show significant changes in volume or pitch. Hoarseness and voice change are often related to disorders in the vocal cords or folds of the voice box and may be the result of various causes. When experiencing hoarseness, the vocal folds are typically prevented from closing all the way due to swelling or some sort of mass, leading to a change in voice.
There are numerous reasons someone may experience hoarseness, many of which require the expertise and diagnosis of an ENT doctor.
Hoarseness is not just an annoyance, but it is a medical problem that may require the attention of an ENT specialist. There are numerous causes of hoarseness, including:
- Acute Laryngitis – This is the most common cause for hoarseness and is signified by a swelling of the vocal chords due to a common cold, viral infection, or from voice strain
- Voice Misuse – This may include speaking in noisy situations, excessive use, telephone use with handset cradled on the shoulder, using inappropriate pitch, not using amplification when public speaking
- Benign Vocal Cord Lesions – Prolonged hoarseness may occur if someone uses their voice too much or too loudly for long periods of time, which may then lead to nodules, polyps, or cysts
- Vocal Hemorrhage – This may be signified by a sudden loss of voice after a yell
- Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD) – This occurs when the stomach acid comes up the swallowing tube and irritates the vocal cords
- Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LRPD) – This happens when the reflux makes it from the upper sphincter into the back of the throat
- Smoking – This is another common cause of hoarseness that can also lead to throat cancer
- Neurological Diseases or Disorders – Hoarseness may also be a result of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s or a stroke
- Other Causes – Allergies, thyroid problems, trauma to the voice box, and menstruation can all cause hoarseness
Your ENT doctor will first evaluate your history of hoarseness and general health. The next step will be to evaluate the voice and do a thorough ear, nose, and throat exam, which will include a laryngoscopy.
There are numerous steps you can take to prevent hoarseness and further problems down the line. It is suggested to try to avoid developing bad habits, such as smoking and overusing the voice by yelling and screaming. Additional prevention tips include:
- Quit smoking
- Avoid fluids that dehydrate the body, such as alcohol and caffeine
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Drink plenty of water
- Use a humidifier in your home
- Avoid spicy foods
- Try not to use your voice for prolonged periods of time
- Use a microphone when you need to project your voice
- Avoid speaking or singing when you are experiencing hoarseness