By Medicover Hospitals / 10 Mar 2021
A hoarse voice, also known as hoarseness or hoarseness, is when the voice involuntarily sounds breathy, hoarse, or strained, or has a softer volume or lower pitch. A hoarse voice can be associated with a feeling of discomfort or irritation in the throat. Hoarseness is often a symptom of problems with the vocal cords of the larynx.
- What is Hoarseness?
- Risk factors
- When to visit a Doctor?
What is Hoarseness?
Hoarseness is known as dysphonia. Dysphonia refers to having an abnormal voice. The most common cause of hoarseness is acute laryngitis. A healthcare professional can usually diagnose the underlying cause of hoarseness based on the history and physical examination of the patient. Treatment for hoarseness depends on the underlying cause. Hoarseness can be prevented by avoiding excessive use of your voice and quitting smoking. If you have persistent hoarseness that lasts for over 10 days, seek immediate medical attention, as you may have a serious underlying medical condition.
Hoarseness is usually caused by a viral infection in the upper respiratory tract. Other common factors that can cause, contribute, or worsen your condition include:
Some less common causes of hoarseness include:
- stomach acid reflux
- smoking tobacco
- drink alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
- yelling, long singing, or overuse of the vocal cords
- inhale toxic substances
- coughing excessively
- polyps (abnormal growths) on the vocal cords
- throat, thyroid, or lung cancer
- damage to the throat, such as from insertion of a breathing tube
- male adolescence (when the voice deepens)
- thyroid gland malfunctions
- thoracic aortic aneurysms (swelling of a part of the aorta, the largest artery in the heart)
- nerve or muscle conditions that weaken the function of the larynx
- Smoking (also the main risk factor for carcinoma of the larynx)
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Professional use of voice, for example, teachers, actors, and singers
- Environment: poor acoustics, atmospheric irritants, and low humidity
- Type 2 diabetes (neuropathy, poor glycemic control)
If you go to your doctor's office or the emergency room and have trouble breathing, the first mode of treatment may be to restore your ability to breathe. Your doctor may give you breathing treatment (wearing a mask) or insert a breathing tube into your airway to help you breathe. Your doctor will probably want to take an inventory of your symptoms with a complete medical history to determine the underlying cause. They may ask you about the quality and strength of your voice and the frequency and duration of your symptoms. Your doctor may ask about factors that worsen your symptoms, such as smoking and yelling or talking for long periods. Any extra signs, such as fever or exhaustion, will be treated. Your doctor will probably examine your throat with a small, lightweight mirror to look for any swelling or abnormalities. Depending on your symptoms, they may take a throat culture, perform a series of plain X-rays of your throat, or recommend a CT scan (another type of X-ray). For a full blood count, the doctor can even take a sample of your blood. This tests your levels of red and white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin.
Treatment for hoarseness depends on the underlying cause:
- Acute laryngitis caused by an upper respiratory infection will usually get better on its own as the infection clears the body. Conservative treatment with cough suppressants and humidified air may be helpful.
- Voice rest is also recommended to avoid further irritation or injury to the vocal cords.
- It is suggested to quit smoking for those who smoke.
- People with hoarseness caused by excessive or incorrect use of the voice should respect the rest of the voice, as serious injuries (such as bleeding from the vocal cords) to the vocal cords can occur if the voice is used vigorously during the episodes of acute laryngitis.
- If either of these is found to be the underlying cause, medications for gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or allergies may treat hoarseness.
- Sometimes, benign nodules or polyps, trauma to the larynx/vocal cords, and laryngeal cancer may require surgery.
- Rest your voice for a few days. Avoid talking and yelling. Don't whisper, as this tightens your vocal cords even more.
- Drink lots of hydrating fluids. Liquids can ease some of your symptoms and moisten your throat.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. They can dry out your throat and make hoarseness worse.
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. It can help open the airways and make breathing easier.
- Take a hot shower. The steam from the shower will help open the airways and provide moisture.
- Stop or limit your smoking habit. The smoke dries and irritates the throat.
- Wet your throat by sucking on lozenges or chewing gum. This stimulates salivation and can help calm the throat.
- Eliminate allergens from your environment. Allergies can often worsen or cause hoarseness.
- Don't use decongestants for your hoarseness. They can further irritate and dry the throat.
When to visit a Doctor?
While hoarseness is not an emergency, it can be related to some serious medical conditions.
If your hoarseness becomes a persistent problem lasting more than a week for a child and 10 days for an adult, talk to your doctor.
See your doctor right away if hoarseness is accompanied by drooling (in a child) and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
A sudden inability to speak or put together coherent sentences can indicate a serious underlying medical condition.
Some self-care methods and home treatments can ease the signs of laryngitis and reduce tension in the voice:
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke. Breathing smoke can irritate the vocal cords and larynx and can dry out the throat.
- Wash your hands frequently. Hoarseness is often caused by a viral infection of the respiratory tract. Washing your hands can help prevent germs from spreading and keep you healthy.
- Stay hydrated. Drink at least eight glasses of 8 ounces of water a day. Liquids thin the mucus in the throat and keep it moist.
- Avoid fluids that dehydrate your body. These include caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages. They can work as diuretics and cause you to lose water.
- Try to resist the urge to clear your throat. This can increase inflammation of the vocal cords and general irritation of the throat.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Usually, the problem goes away after several days with self-care and resting the voice. Hoarseness can, however, be more than temporary discomfort. I recommend that anyone who experiences hoarseness and has not improved after two weeks consult a doctor.
Causes of chronic laryngitis. Laryngeal symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and hoarse voice, are often caused by prolonged irritation of the larynx and vocal cords.
Hoarseness can be due to a number of conditions. The most common cause of hoarseness is acute laryngitis (inflammation of the vocal cords) caused most often by an upper respiratory infection (usually viral), and less frequently by excessive or inappropriate use of the voice (such as yelling or singing).
Dehydration is bad for you and your vocal cords. If you are in dry and arid conditions, try using an indoor humidifier. Make sure to rest your voice to avoid trying too hard.
When you're stressed, the muscles that control your larynx can tense up. This can cause hoarseness, a cracking voice, or the need to strain the voice to be heard.
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