What is Hoarseness?
Hoarseness is a symptom and not a disease. It is a general term that describes abnormal voice changes. When hoarse, the voice may sound breathy, raspy, strained, or there may be changes in volume (loudness) or pitch (how high or low the voice is). The changes in sound are usually due to disorders related to the vocal folds, which are the sound- producing parts of the voice box (larynx). There are many causes of hoarseness; fortunately, most are not serious and tend to go away in a short period of time. If hoarseness persists longer than two weeks, a visit to your physician is recommended. While not always the case, persistent hoarseness can be a warning sign of larynx cancer.
- A thorough history of your hoarseness and your general health is obtained.
- The voice box and surrounding tissue will then be examined using a mirror or a laryngoscope (a small lighted flexible instrument placed in the back of your throat).
- Voice quality is then evaluated:
- A breathy voice may suggest poor vocal cord function, which may be caused by a benign tumor, polyp or larynx cancer.
- A raspy voice may indicate vocal cord thickening due to swelling, inflammation from infection, a chemical irritant, voice abuse or paralysis of the vocal chords.
- A high, shaky voice or a soft voice may suggest trouble getting enough breathing force or air.
- Lab tests, such as a biopsy, x-rays, or thyroid function may be ordered depending on the findings of the physical exam.
Treatment varies depending on the condition causing the hoarseness.
- Most hoarseness can be treated by simply resting the voice or modifying how the voice is used.
- If smoking is related to the hoarseness, you may be advised to stop smoking, as well as resting your voice.
- For all patients, it is recommended to avoid smoking or the exposure to second hand smoke and drink plenty of fluids.
- Surgery may be recommended if there are nodules or polyps on the vocal folds.