Most of the time hoarseness is just an inconvenience. It usually starts as a scratchy throat that slowly transforms your voice into a raspy hoarseness. This is also called dysphonia. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, this affects nearly one-third of the population.
Hoarseness occurs when there are problems with the vocal cords or parts of your voice box or larynx. Hoarseness is often caused by colds, allergies, or reflux, but chronic hoarseness can indicate a more serious problem.
How does your voice box work?
First, air is pushed out the vocal cords. Then, passing air causes the cords to vibrate, which produces sound and speech, according to the Mayo Clinic. An irritated throat or vocal cords can interfere with this process.
What causes hoarseness?
It’s important to remember that hoarseness is a symptom of a health problem. Treating symptoms won’t resolve the underlying cause. Therefore, it is so important to see your local ear, nose and throat physician who will be able to get to the heart of the problem and find an effective treatment plan.
Common Causes of Hoarseness
The common cold or an upper respiratory infection are the most common causes of hoarseness. Other causes include:
- Laryngitis, or inflammation of the vocal cords
- Overusing your voice
- Allergies that caused inflammation
- Medication side effects
- Vocal cord spasms
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
- Intubation –When a tube is passed through the mouth in order to assist breathing
Hoarseness is more common in people who use their voice frequently in their everyday careers, such as singers, coaches and teachers. It’s also seen a lot in those over 65 or boys between the ages of 8 and 14.
Serious diseases that can cause hoarseness
While many cases of hoarseness are minor, it can be caused by serious diseases such as:
- Head and neck cancer
- Cancer of the larynx
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease
How long does hoarseness last?
If your dysphonia is related to an allergy, cold or upper respiratory infection, it should go away within seven to 10 days. If it does not get better within two weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your Colorado ENT. Since this could be a sign of a more complex problem. Other indictors of a more serious problem are:
- Coughing up blood
- Pain when swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- A lump in your neck
- Significant voice changes
Effective remedies for hoarseness
- Giving your voice a break
- Adding a humidifier to your home
- Stay hydrated, especially if you live in a dry area
- Avoiding excessive coughing and throat clearing
- Voice therapy to modify how the voice is used. This may be especially helpful to those who use their voice frequently in their daily jobs
Depending upon the underlying cause, surgery might be necessary, especially if a mass is found in the neck, in which case, our doctor may order an MRI, CT scan or a biopsy.
Things to help prevent hoarseness
- Avoid spicy food
- Avoid tobacco products
- Stop smoking and eliminate exposure to smoke
- Avoid dehydrating drinks, such as beer, wine and caffeinated drinks.
- Don’t overuse your voice
- Get allergy treatments
Only an ENT can determine the exact cause of your hoarseness
There are many potential causes of hoarseness. While most are benign, some can carry life-threatening consequences if left undiagnosed. Our Colorado ENT physicians have the extensive experience that enables us to accurately pinpoint the cause of your problems and offer customized solutions to help you.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.