Hoarseness - Causes

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What causes hoarseness?

Hoarseness is generally caused by irritation of, or injury to, the vocal cords. The larynx (also referred to as the voice box), is the portion of the respiratory (breathing) tract containing the vocal cords. The cartilaginous outer wall of the larynx is commonly referred to as the "Adams apple." The vocal cords are two bands of muscle that form a "V" inside the larynx. When we sing or speak, the vocal cords vibrate and produce sound.

Picture of the Larynx
Picture of the Larynx

Hoarseness can be caused by 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 tract infection (usually viral), and less commonly from overuse or misuse of the voice (such as from yelling or singing).

Other causes of hoarseness include:

  • benign vocal cord nodules, cysts or polyps,
  • gastroesophageal reflux (GERD),
  • allergies,
  • inhalation of respiratory tract irritants,
  • smoking,
  • thyroid problems,
  • trauma to the larynx/vocal cords,
  • neurological conditions (such as Parkinson's disease and strokes), and
  • cancer of the larynx.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: CyndiH, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: April 23

I've developed what I believe is an allergy to something in fabric (I'm a quilter). After spending more than an hour in my sewing room or in my RV (recreational vehicle) working with fabric, I get hoarse. It's getting worse; I think I'm going to have to cut back on the time I spend quilting and seek medical help to verify what it is in the fabric that's causing my hoarseness.

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Comment from: keleee, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: July 31

I have suffered with hoarseness for years. An ENT discovered by looking down my throat with a fiber optic camera that I have vocal cord polyps. He surgically removed one but two grew back! Now he just keeps an eye on them to make sure there is no sign of cancer. The polyps keep the vocal cords from touching so I can strain my voice by whispering! Also coughing can strain my voice.

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