Hoarseness is an abnormal change in the voice. Changes in voice can be described as strained, raspy, or breathy. Voice problems also include problems with volume and changes in pitch. Hoarseness can usually be blamed on a problem with the vocal cords such as swelling, nodules or polyps. The vocal cords are folds in the larynx that vibrate to produce your voice.
Causes of hoarseness include:
- Voice overuse or abuse
- Common cold and upper respiratory infections
- Acid reflux
- Breathing in irritating substances
- Chronic coughing
- Heavy smoking and drinking
- Cancer of the throat or larynx
Typically, an ENT physician or otolaryngologist will diagnose your hoarseness and identify the cause. Your doctor may use laryngoscopy to see your vocal cords and look for visible causes such as inflammation or lumps.
Treatment depends on the cause of the hoarseness, but most cases are resolved by resting the voice, drinking plenty of fluids and using a vaporizer. In some cases, the treatment may require surgery if a lesion such as a polyp has been identified as the cause.
Most cases of hoarseness are preventable. You can prevent hoarseness by not smoking, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, staying hydrated, not using your voice too long or loudly, seeking professional voice training and avoiding speaking or singing when your voice is injured or hoarse.
You should discuss your hoarseness with your ENT physician if it lasts longer than three weeks, there is no cold or flu present, you are coughing up blood, you have difficulty swallowing, it is painful to speak or swallow, you have a lump in your neck or have difficulty breathing during the voice change.