Hoarseness is an inflammation of the larynx that results in a change in the voice, making it sound breathy, raspy, strained. There may be changes in volume and pitch, as well. Hoarseness falls under the medical category of dysphonia, which refers to voice impairment or any sort of difficulty speaking.
What Causes Hoarseness?
Hoarseness is the result of a problem with the vocal cords. It can be caused by a variety of different conditions including cold or sinus infections, acute laryngitis, voice misuse or abuse, benign vocal cord lesions, acid reflux, vocal hemorrhage, tobacco and alcohol use, thyroid diseases, cancer, trauma to the voice box, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or spasmodic dysphonia, a chronic vocal cord disorder.
Many times, hoarseness clears up on its own without any sort of medical intervention. Many patients take a wait-and-see approach, treating symptoms with home remedies that include resting the voice, staying hydrated by drinking lots of fluids, and using a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Making certain lifestyle changes – eliminating spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine from the diet, giving up cigarettes, avoiding activities that cause vocal cord strain such as shouting, whispering, or using inappropriate pitch or volume – are all helpful ways to reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with chronic hoarseness.
Sometimes, a trip to see an otolaryngologist or other ENT specialist is necessary. If hoarseness lasts longer than three weeks, is not accompanied by cold or flu symptoms, affects your ability to swallow or breathe or otherwise interferes with your livelihood, seek medical attention. You will be given a thorough physical examination, including the ears, nose, and throat, and may be given a laryngoscopy or other special test to help analyze the vocal folds. Treatment depends on the cause and may include drugs, surgery, and/or voice therapy.