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Voice Hoarseness Causes & Symptoms

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What is hoarseness?

Hoarseness is the term used to describe an abnormal change in the voice due to swelling or lumps on the vocal folds in the voice box. Vocal folds are the part of the body that allows sound to be produced. When they are open, air passes freely through them. When they fold, or come together, they vibrate and create sounds. When these vocal folds swell or have irregular growths, the sound quality will change. A hoarse voice may sound raspy, different in pitch, or strained.

What causes hoarseness?

  • Acute laryngitis – The most common cause of hoarseness is laryngitis, which is the swelling of the vocal cords. This kind of vocal change is common during a common cold or voice strain.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – This disease causes stomach acid to enter the esophagus (or tube that helps you to swallow) and irritates the vocal folds.
  • Vocal cord growths – Using your voice too much or speaking loudly for a long period of time can lead to vocal cord nodules or polyps, which are benign growths on the vocal folds.
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) – Similar to GERD, LPR occurs when stomach acid goes through the esophagus and into the throat. This condition can also cause vocal cord irritation, and possibly more damage than GERD because the throat is more sensitive to stomach acid.
  • Smoking – Smoking can cause a sore throat and hoarseness, which is a potential sign of throat cancer. It is always best to see an ear, nose and throat specialist if your voice becomes hoarse and you are a smoker.
  • Other conditions – This includes allergies, voice box injury, thyroid problems, and laryngeal cancer. Due to the severity of certain conditions related to throat hoarseness, your condition should always be evaluated by a professional ear, nose and throat doctor, such as New York ENT.

When should I see a doctor about hoarseness?

If you experience hoarseness accompanied by any of the following conditions, see a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Raspy voice that lasts longer than 3 weeks
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lump on your neck
  • Significant voice changes that last longer than a few days

How is hoarseness diagnosed?

If you experience hoarseness, it is important to see a doctor for an evaluation. An ear, nose and throat specialist will conduct a physical exam in addition to evaluating symptoms and medical history to make an accurate diagnosis.

Sometimes, a laryngoscopy is needed to examine the vocal folds.

How is hoarseness treated?

If laryngitis is determined to be the cause of hoarseness, a New York ENT doctor can provide laryngitis treatment. If there is another cause for the condition, our ear, nose and throat doctors can recommend other hoarseness treatment options, ranging from simply resting the voice to throat surgery. Consult a specialist to determine the right treatment for your condition.

If you are suffering from a sore throat, raspy voice, or hoarseness, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of voice-related conditions. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at (212) 873-6168 to schedule an appointment today.

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