Hoarseness

  • Medical Author:
    Steven Doerr, MD

    Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are the signs and symptoms of hoarseness?

Hoarseness typically gives the voice a raspy and harsh quality, though it may also cause a change in the pitch or volume of the voice. The rapidity of onset and any associated symptoms will depend on the underlying cause leading to hoarseness.

How are the causes of hoarseness diagnosed?

A health care professional will ask the patient questions about their hoarseness and any other associated symptoms. A physical exam will focus on the head and neck. Often times, a diagnosis can be made based on this initial assessment. In some instances, a long lighted flexible tube (fiberoptic scope) will be inserted into the throat to directly visualize the vocal cords if no other cause is initially identified. Individuals with hoarseness that lasts longer than 2 to 3 weeks should have a consultation with an otolaryngologist in order to exclude any serious causes of hoarseness.

What is the treatment for hoarseness?

The treatment for hoarseness depends on the underlying cause, for example:

  • Acute laryngitis caused by an upper respiratory tract infection will usually improve on its own as the infection clears the body. Conservative treatment with cough suppressants and humidified air can be helpful.
  • Voice rest is also recommended in order to avoid further irritation or injury to the vocal cords.
  • Antibiotics are not indicated for most cases of acute laryngitis.
  • Smoking cessation is suggested for those individuals that smoke.
  • Individuals with hoarseness caused by vocal overuse or misuse should adhere to voice rest, as serious injury (such as vocal cord hemorrhage can occur to the vocal cords if the voice is strenuously used during episodes of acute laryngitis.
  • Medications for gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) or allergies can treat hoarseness if either of these is found to be the underlying cause.
  • In some instances, surgery may be necessary for benign nodules or polyps, trauma to the larynx/vocal cords and for cancer of the larynx.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/5/2015
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