By Dr. Sarika Verma, Ear-Nose-Throat (ENT)
Hoarseness or dysphonia is a general term which describes abnormal voice changes. A hoarse voice sounds strained, breathy, and raspy accompanied by changes in pitch (how high or low the voice is) or volume (loudness).
Hoarseness eventually leads to vocal fatigue in which voice feels and sounds tired over a period of time. These changes are because of vocal fold disorders. There are a number of causes of Hoarseness, but most of them are not serious and tend to recede in a matter of a few days. But if Hoarseness persists for longer than about two weeks, a doctor’s consultation should be sought as though it’s not always the case, it can be a warning sign of larynx cancer.
Causes of Hoarseness:
Hoarseness can occur by any reason which causes interference in the vibration of vocal cords. These causes can be inflammation, swelling, and polyps which come in the way of vocal box and make a hindrance in closing vocal cords properly. These conditions may also result in paralysis of one or both of vocal cords:
- Laryngitis can cause Hoarseness of voice and can be caused by a common cold or by shouting too loudly.
- Vocal cord cysts interfere with the normal closing while speaking and is usually a result of excessive use of voice.
- Year-round and seasonal allergies can cause Hoarseness.
- Hoarseness due to reflux of acid from the stomach up to vocal cords is a common cause which many people are unaware of.
- Untreated hypothyroidism can cause Hoarseness.
- Exposure to irritants in the atmosphere or their inhalation and smoking can also make voice hoarse.
- Long term use of inhalers in asthma can also cause a hoarse voice.
- Cancers of larynx, lungs, pharynx, lymphoma, and thyroid may all have Hoarseness as the first symptom.
- Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Strokes, and Multiple Sclerosis affect nerves supplying the vocal cords and may all cause Hoarseness.
- Damage of vocal cord in trauma, like an accident, can make the voice hoarse.
- Spasmodic dysphonia affects the muscles of the larynx, resulting in Hoarseness.
- Laryngeal nerve paralysis damages the nerves leading to voice box, resulting in Hoarseness.
- Bowing of vocal cords due to old age can also result in Hoarseness.
Treatment of Hoarseness:
Treatment depends on the cause of Hoarseness of voice, which is determined by an otolaryngologist.
- In most of the cases, Hoarseness can be treated by simply instructing how to use voice or by resting the voice.
- If smoking is the actual cause of Hoarseness, one should stop smoking, stop consuming tobacco products, and prevent exposure to passive smoke too.
- Alcohol and icy cold water should also be avoided as they irritate vocal cords.
- Surgery might be prescribed if there are polyps or nodules on the vocal folds which are causing Hoarseness of voice or when there has been an injury to the vocal cords.
- Breathing moist air by using an air humidifier is recommended to treat Hoarseness. Also, keeping the body hydrated and a moist throat helps.
- Avoid clearing throat because it irritates vocal cords.
- Avoid decongestants as they dry out throat.
- Avoid whispering as it puts even more strain on voice than normal speech does.
- Speech and language pathology specialists assist patients in behavior modification to eliminate some voice disorders.
There are a number of possible causes of Hoarseness. Some are minor but others can have life-threatening consequences. So, it is recommended that if the problem persists, one should seek specialist medical help without wasting much time.