Hoarseness is an abnormally deep or harsh voice that may sound raspy, scratchy, breathy or strained. There may be changes in volume or pitch. It’s usually the result of irritation or injury to the vocal cords and can be caused by a number of different conditions.
When we speak, our vocal cords vibrate as air leaves the lungs, producing sound. Swelling or inflammation of the vocal cords affects the vibration, altering the quality of the voice. A variety of factors can cause this, but the most common is acute laryngitis. This swelling of the vocal cords is caused by a cold or viral infection. Attempting to use your voice while suffering from acute laryngitis can cause serious, irreparable harm to the vocal cords.
Misuse of the voice – yelling, whispering, excessive throat clearing and general overuse – can cause strained vocal cords. Other causes include benign vocal cord lesions, acid reflux, allergies, smoking, neurological disorders, vocal hemorrhage, thyroid diseases, trauma to the voice box and cancer.
Treatment for hoarseness will vary depending on the underlying cause. Your best course of action, regardless of the condition, is to rest your voice until symptoms recede. Vocal cord lesions (polyps, nodules and cysts) will require surgical removal.
To prevent hoarseness, be careful how you use your voice; avoid speaking too long or too loudly, and keep your vocal cords moist by drinking plenty of liquids. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, both of which dehydrate your body, as well as spicy foods. Stay away from cigarettes, which can cause irritation and may worsen your condition. Even secondhand cigarette smoke can cause problems.