What Is Hoarseness?

When your voice suddenly changes, becoming breathy, raspy, gravelly, strained, or higher or lower in pitch, it’s known as hoarseness or losing your voice. Such changes occur because of a problem with your vocal cords, the sound-producing parts of your larynx (also called the voice box).

Your vocal cords remain apart when you breathe. If you start to speak or sing, your vocal cords come together, meet the air leaving your lungs, and start to vibrate. The result is sound. If you develop swelling or lumps on your vocal folds, though, it affects the vibrations, changing the quality of your voice.

What Causes Hoarseness?

There are many hoarseness causes, from the common cold to neurological disorders. Here are some of the more prevalent reasons for losing your voice.

Acute laryngitis

This is the most common hoarseness cause — the vocal cords swell from a common cold, viral upper respiratory tract infection, or vocal strain. You can injure your vocal folds if you talk or sing too much during an episode of acute laryngitis.

Overall health-related causes

It’s possible to experience a hoarse throat as a result of gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), allergies, thyroid issues, or smoking. Serious problems, such as laryngeal cancer, can also lead to hoarseness, so having chronic hoarseness checked promptly is crucial.

Misusing your voice

Even mundane activities can lead to a hoarse voice, such as trying to be heard in noisy environments, using your voice too much, trying to talk on a phone that’s cradled against your shoulder, speaking in a pitch that’s too high or too low, and public speaking without amplification. In fact, using your voice too much or too loudly can lead to nodules, polyps, or cysts developing on your vocal cords. They’re benign but can still affect your voice.

Vocal hemorrhage

This occurs when a blood vessel on a vocal cord ruptures, causing the soft tissues to fill with blood. It’s characterized by sudden voice loss after straining your voice, and it’s an emergency — if it happens, immediately stop using your voice and see an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Neurological disorders

Hoarseness can result from neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s. It could also be a symptom of a rare disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. If you’ve had a lost voice longer than three months and have ruled out other causes, consider consulting a neurologist.

How Is Hoarseness Treated?

Often, especially if caused by a cold or allergies, hoarseness resolves itself through home remedies. Common among these are resting your voice, staying hydrated, and using a humidifier to add moisture to the air. Lifestyle changes are often helpful as well, such as avoiding spicy foods, alcohol, and cigarettes.

Sometimes, however, a visit to a physician is necessary. If hoarseness lasts longer than three weeks or affects your ability to swallow or breathe, schedule an appointment with an ENT doctor. You’ll receive a physical examination and possibly a laryngoscopy or other special test to inspect your vocal cords. Treatment could include drugs, surgery, or voice therapy.

Call ENT Physicians and Surgeons at (603) 669-0831 for more information or to schedule an appointment.