Hoarseness 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).

Causes of Hoarseness

Hoarseness due to a cold or flu may be evaluated by family physicians, pediatricians, and internists who have learned how to examine the larynx.When hoarseness lasts longer that two weeks or has no obvious cause it should be evaluated by an Otolaryngologist.

There are many causes of hoarseness. Fortunately, most are not serious and tend to go away in a short period of time.

  • The most common cause is acute laryngitis which usually occurs due to swelling from a common cold, upper respiratory infection or irritation caused by excessive voice use such as screaming at a sporting event or rock concert.
  • More prolonged hoarseness is usually due to using your voice too much, too loudly, or improperly over extended periods of time. These habits can lead to vocal nodules (singer’s nodules), callous-like growths, or may lead to polyps of the vocal cords (more extensive swelling). Both of these conditions are benign. Vocal nodules are common in children and adults who raise their voice in work or play.
  • A common cause of hoarseness may be Gastro-Esophageal Reflux, when stomach acid comes up the swallowing tube (esophagus) and irritates the vocal cords. Many patients with reflux-related changes of voice do not have symptoms of heartburn. Usually, the voice is worse in the morning and improves during the day. These individuals may have a sensation of a lump in their throat, mucus sticking in their throat or an excessive desire to clear their throat.
  • Smoking is another cause of hoarseness. As smoking is the major cause of throat cancer, if smokers are hoarse, they should see an Otolaryngologist.
  • Other causes for hoarseness include allergies, thyroid problems, neurological disorders, trauma to the voice box, and occasionally, the normal menstrual cycle.