Hoarseness is a general term that describes abnormal voice changes; it may sound breathy, raspy, strained, or there may be changes in volume or pitch. The changes are usually due to disorders related to the vocal cords, the sound producing part of the voice box, or larynx.
Hoarseness lasting longer than one month should be evaluated by a medical provider. Common triggers include viral upper respiratory infection, overuse of the voice, GERD, and smoking. Less common causes include benign and cancerous growths of the vocal cords. Cancer of the vocal cords is very treatable and curable if diagnosed early.
- Acute Laryngitis – The most common cause of hoarseness usually occurs due to swelling from a common cold, upper respiratory tract viral infection, or irritation caused by excessive voice use such as screaming at a sporting event or rock concert.
- Vocal Nodules – Prolonged hoarseness is usually due to using your voice too much, too loudly, or improperly over extended periods of time. This can lead to vocal nodules (singer’s nodes), which are callous-like growths.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux – A common cause of hoarseness during which stomach acid comes up the swallowing tube (esophagus), and irritates the vocal cords. Many times this presents without a history of heartburn.
- Smoking – Since smoking is the major cause of throat cancer, if smokers are hoarse, they should see an otolaryngologist.