Why is My Voice Hoarse?

woman with sore throat

Hoarseness refers to abnormal changes in the voice. While there are dozens of distinct conditions that can cause vocal hoarseness, the vast majority of cases come from relatively benign, temporary conditions – simply “overworking” your voice.

How Does the Voice Work?

Hoarseness typically denotes a problem in the vocal folds. These folds are located within the larynx, the organ at the top of the neck known as the “voice box.” When you speak, you use the larynx to modulate pitch and volume.

The vocal folds take the form of two bands of muscle tissue. These are placed opposite one another inside the larynx. Whenever we are not speaking, the vocal folds are open wide so we can breathe normally. When we speak, they snap closed.

The closure of the vocal folds combined with air from the lungs moving past them causes a series of vibrations. These, in turn, are influenced by the throat, nose, and mouth. The individual qualities of a person’s voice are the result of all these factors working together.

What Causes Vocal Hoarseness?

Most cases of hoarseness come from mild, transient problems with the vocal folds. The folds can get sore and strained – most often from overuse. As with many other body parts, they simply need time to recover and heal on their own.

Hoarseness can be caused by any experience of talking, singing, or shouting for a long period of time. The louder and more forceful the voice used, the more pressure is placed upon the vocal folds and their supporting structures, resulting in potential hoarseness.

In very rare cases, certain dietary or lifestyle factors can contribute to hoarseness: hot and carbonated beverages have both been linked to hoarseness.

Infections that target the sinuses can result in hoarseness both directly and indirectly. Anything that creates soreness, inflammation, or blockage of the mouth, nose, or throat may also lead to hoarseness.

When is Vocal Hoarseness a Serious Medical Problem?

Conditions linked to hoarseness come in a huge variety. Except in cases where hoarseness is caused by singing or shouting, hoarseness is almost never the only symptom. You should see a doctor to rule out a severe problem if hoarseness persists for three weeks or more.

Although hoarseness tends to subside on its own, a handful of conditions can require surgical intervention, especially when growths occur in the mouth or throat. There are three common types of noncancerous growths patients might encounter:

  • Polyps: Usually restricted to one vocal fold as a result of acute injury (such as shouting);
  • Nodules: Usually arise on both vocal folds from the effects of chronic abuse of the voice;
  • Granulomas: Common in adults, these typically occur due to acid reflux damage.

Laryngeal cancer is a form of cancer that can present hoarseness as an early symptom. The more common forms of laryngeal cancer are associated with risk factors like smoking and heavy alcohol use. Early diagnosis is essential to treatment.

How to Avoid Hoarseness

To reduce the risk of hoarseness, speak within your normal vocal range and avoid shouting. If you must talk for long periods of time, be sure to take occasional breaks. The more talking or singing you do, the more important it is to remain hydrated.

If you have been experiencing hoarseness on a consistent basis, contact ENT Centers of Excellence to book an appointment today and find out more about your best-customized treatment options.

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