Do you know what causes hoarseness of voice? Everyone at some point ends up with a hoarse voice of voice or experiences abnormal changes in the quality of their voice, especially during a bad cold or too much cheering at a music or sports event or excessive speaking/shouting or loudly singing—often making it harder to make sounds or trying to talk. As a result, the voice might sound rough, husky, breathy, weak, higher or lower in pitch, inconsistent voice quality.
Hoarseness, an abnormal change in your voice, is a common condition, though typically isn’t an emergency but can be more than a temporary nuisance. Your voice can change suddenly or gradually depending on the cause. There may be voice breaks where the voice completely stops or cuts out. Usually, the problem goes away after a few days with self-care and resting voice.
Understanding hoarseness of voice and how does our voice work
Hoarseness of voice is not a disease—often a symptom of other vocal cord problems of the voice box (larynx) that contains the vocal cords in the throat-producing sound. These vocal cords vibrate as air leaves the lungs to produce a person’s voice. When your voice box is at rest and you are not speaking, your vocal folds are open and close so that we can breathe in and out freely. Anything that alters this pattern or leads to ineffective closure of the vocal cords results in hoarseness.
A hoarse voice is where the vocal cords become swelled or irritated, limiting the usual vibrational movement, leading to a person’s voice becoming hoarse—causing a low, husky voice.
Symptoms for hoarseness of voice
Hoarseness is a symptom of something else.
Following are some of the possible symptoms of a hoarse voice:
- Voice changes (strained, breathy, weak, pitch changes, inconsistent, shaky voice)
- Hoarseness that lasts more than 2 weeks (especially if you smoke)
- Severe changes in voice lasting more than 10 days
- Difficulty in breathing
- Pain while speaking
- Persistent cough
- The feeling of the dry throat or lump in the throat
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Postnatal drip
- Difficulty to continue vocal profession (singers/speakers)
If you have persistent hoarseness lasting for more than 10 days, consult the ENT doctor to diagnose the underlying medical condition and suggest the line of treatment.
What causes hoarseness of voice
Hoarseness is the most commonly seen problem after a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract. However, it can be due to other common factors below is the list of what causes hoarseness of voice –
- Allergies or cold or flu viruses (Laryngitis, upper respiratory infections)
- Chronic coughing (bronchitis)
- Improper use of or abuse of the voice (shouting or singing)
- Trauma to the voice box (injury while inserting a foreign object or during surgery)
- Acid reflux (Gastroesophageal reflux or GERD)
- Excessive smoking or drinking
- Swallowing or exposure to a harsh toxic substance
- Underactive thyroid gland
- Cancer (throat or larynx or lung)
- Abnormal growths on the vocal cords (polyps or cysts)
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Breathing in irritating substances
- Changes in the larynx during puberty (male adolescence)
- Neurological disorders (stroke, Parkinson’s disease)
Diagnosis for hoarseness of voice
If hoarseness of voice doesn’t resolve even after two weeks, the list of causative factors grows much larger. And to some extent, the type of disturbance of your voice can offer important clues.
Diagnosing a cause begins with a review of symptoms and lifestyle habits (smoking/drinking) including your history, potential triggering factors, your occupation, hobbies, and other medical problems to try and identify the causes for hoarseness.
The doctor may perform visual examinations (using mirror/light/laryngoscope) of the mouth and throat to inspect the larynx and check for inflammation or irritation. Your larynx or “voice box” is examined to look for any sores, rough patches, or nodules.
In addition, the doctor may evaluate the quality of your voice, looking for other clues for diseases or conditions which have hoarseness as a symptom.
You may also be needing some additional tests, depending on the cause of the hoarseness.
Treatment options for hoarseness of voice
Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Treatment depends on the cause and duration of hoarseness of voice. Recovery usually depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Usually, treatment involves adequate rest and hydration, but in some cases, medication therapy or surgery might be needed.
You can take several actions to prevent hoarseness. Identifying and avoiding triggers can help prevent a hoarse voice. For example, for a few this could be how they use their voice. Hoarseness that continues for weeks or months should be checked by a doctor.
To help alleviate hoarse voice, follow some of the simple vocal self-care wellness tips including:
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- Avoid fluids that dehydrate your body
- Use an air humidifier in the surroundings to add moisture to the air
- Wash hands regularly to avoid coming in contact with others with flu
- Rest the voice when ill or if your job demands prolonged talking
- Avoid actions that strain the vocal cords (whispering, shouting, crying, singing)
- Give absolute voice rest and talk only when you need to until hoarseness goes away
- Eliminate allergens from the environment
- Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoking
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Restrain from consuming spicy/greasy/acidic food
- Take a hot shower to open airways and provide moisture
- Exercise regularly to maintain moderate weight
- Avoid excessive consumption of caffeine
- Avoid overusing the voice, where possible
- Moisten throat by sucking on lozenges/chewing gum
- Avoid using decongestants for hoarseness to avoid further irritation
- Use a microphone if the job requires a lot of talking to avoid straining voice
- Practice breathing techniques when talking or singing
- Wear protective gear to avoid inhalation of harmful irritants
- Rinse the throat with a saline solution or over-the-counter mouthwash
- Avoid the action of clearing the throat to further avoid irritating vocal cords
- Take medicines to stop acid reflux back into your throat if hoarseness is due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Some health experts suggest that a person may benefit from a speech and language therapist. This approach can help people avoid using the voice in a way that irritates the vocal cords, which may aggravate irritation.
The Bottom Line
Hoarseness in voice is not always a cause for concern. Various problems may cause your voice to change. Treatment strategies for hoarseness typically depend on the underlying cause.
In most cases, a person’s voice will return to normal without treatment in some days. In other cases, doctors might suggest medications or lifestyle changes to treat the condition.
General healthy practices will help you to prevent hoarseness. Some self-care methods may relieve and reduce strain on the voice.
If you have persistent hoarseness lasting more than 10 days, a serious underlying medical condition may be the cause. Early treatment by the doctor is critical to determine the cause of your symptoms and prevent any complications. In addition, discuss with the doctor other ways to reduce the possibility of inflammation.