- Signs & Symptoms
What is hoarseness?
Hoarseness is an abnormal change in the voice caused by a variety of conditions. The voice may have changes in pitch and volume, ranging from a deep, harsh voice to a weak, raspy voice.
What is unexplained hoarseness?
While hoarseness is often a symptom of an underlying condition, unexplained hoarseness does not have an identifiable cause. This type of hoarseness can recurrent or persistent. Most often, unexplained hoarseness may be due to an underlying condition that has not yet been diagnosed.
What is the most common cause of hoarseness?
Hoarseness is generally caused by irritation 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 lines. The cartilaginous outer wall of the larynx is commonly referred to as the "Adam's 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.
Several conditions can cause hoarseness. 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:
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 healthcare professional will ask the patient questions about their hoarseness and any other associated symptoms. A physical exam will focus on the head and neck. Oftentimes, 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 to exclude any serious causes of hoarseness.
How do you get rid of 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 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 cancer of the larynx.
- After Salmonella Cases Double in a Week, Cantaloupe Recall Expanded
- Soccer 'Heading' Tied to Declines in Brain Function
- Smoking Tobacco Plus Weed Greatly Raises Odds for Emphysema
- COVID Vaccines Curbed Pandemic-Linked Surge in Preemie Births
- Could a 'Brain Coach' Help Folks at Higher Risk for Alzheimer's?
- More Health News »
Can hoarseness be serious?
Because hoarseness may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition, it shouldn't be ignored. Some of the serious conditions hoarseness may be associated with include:
If your hoarseness persists for longer than two weeks or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
How is hoarseness prevented?
Hoarseness can be prevented in some instances, for example:
- Avoid situations that require excessive strenuous voice use, and if a person needs to project their voice, use a microphone if possible.
- Voice therapists or singing teachers may be helpful in certain cases to assist individuals with vocal training and voice modification.
- Smoking cessation can prevent hoarseness or the development of cancer of the larynx.
- Individuals with hoarseness caused by gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) can benefit from medications and dietary modification (such as avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods).
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
MedscapeReference.com. Acute Laryngitis Treatment and Management.
Top Hoarseness Related Articles
Allergy (Allergies)An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)Dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription and non-prescription drugs and certain medical conditions. Symptoms of dry mouth include a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth, frequent thirst, sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth, cracked lips, a dry feeling in the throat, a burning or tingling sensation in the mouth, and a dry, red, raw tongue.
What Is Esophageal pH Monitoring?Esophageal pH monitoring is used to measure the reflux (regurgitation or backwash) of acid from the stomach into the esophagus and to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Side effects of the procedure are few but may include mild discomfort in the back of the throat while the catheter is placed, and swallowing.
Fundoplication (Acid Reflux Surgery)Fundoplication is a surgical procedure for treating GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). The procedure is to help GERD symptoms including heartburn. Eighty percent of patients with GERD also have a hiatal hernia, and during the fundoplication procedure, the hernial sac may also be surgically fixed. The procedure can be done with laparotomy, thoracotomy, or laparoscopy.
GERD (Acid Reflux, Heartburn)Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called acid reflux, can cause symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, regurgitation, and nausea. Learn about causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Acid Reflux (Heartburn, GERD): Symptoms & RemediesHeartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that causes chest pain when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn symptoms may mimic chest pain that occurs during a heart attack. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may produce other symptoms.
Cough: 19 Tips on How to Stop a CoughCoughing is a reflex that helps a person clear their airways of irritants. There are many causes of an excessive or severe cough including irritants like cigarette and secondhand smoke, pollution, air fresheners, medications like beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, the common cold, GERD, lung cancer, and heart disease.Natural and home remedies to help cure and soothe a cough include staying hydrated, gargle salt water, use cough drops or lozenges, use herbs and supplements like ginger, mint, licorice, and slippery elm, and don't smoke. Over-the-counter products (OTC)to cure and soothe a cough include cough suppressants and expectorants, and anti-reflux drugs. Prescription drugs that help cure a cough include narcotic medications, antibiotics, inhaled steroids, and anti-reflux drugs like proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, for example, omeprazole (Prilosec), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix).
LaryngitisLaryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box (vocal cords). The most common cause of acute laryngitis is an infection, which inflames the vocal cords. Symptoms may vary from the degree of laryngitis and age of the person (laryngitis in infants and children is more commonly caused by croup).
Sore Throat or Strep Throat? How to Tell the DifferenceIs this a sore throat or could it be strep throat? Explore the causes of a sore throat, including strep throat, and learn how to find relief from that raw, scratchy throat pain.
StrokeA stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding (hemorrhagic). Symptoms of a stroke may include weakness, numbness, double vision or vision loss, confusion, vertigo, difficulty speaking, or understanding speech. A physical exam, imaging tests, neurological exam, and blood tests may be used to diagnose a stroke. Treatment may include administration of clot-busting drugs, supportive care, and in some instances, neurosurgery. The risk of stroke can be reduced by controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stopping smoking.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)An upper respiratory infection is a contagious infection of the structures of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx, and larynx. Common causes of an upper respiratory infection include bacteria and viruses such as rhinoviruses, group A streptococci, influenza, respiratory syncytial, whooping cough, diphtheria, and Epstein-Barr. Examples of symptoms of upper respiratory infection include sneezing, sore throat, cough, fever, and nasal congestion. Treatment of upper respiratory infections are based upon the cause. Generally, viral infections are treated symptomatically with over-the-counter (OTC) medication and home remedies.
Cancer: Visual Guide to Thyroid CancerFind out the symptoms of thyroid cancer, and learn how to treat it after you get a diagnosis.
What Is Vocal Cordotomy?Vocal cordotomy or carbon dioxide laser endoscopic posterior cordotomy is a popular minimally invasive procedure performed to treat bilateral vocal fold (cord) paralysis.