What is Hoarseness?
Hoarseness is the term used to describe a change in the pitch or quality in your voice caused by a problem in the larynx or the nerves supplying it.
What are the causes?
The commonest cause is acute laryngitis (inflammation of the vocal cords) caused by an upper respiratory tract infection. It can occur at any age.
Additional causes are:
- thyroid problems
- laryngeal trauma
- neurological conditions
- gastro-oesophageal reflux
Hoarseness may be associated with difficulty swallowing, sore throat, ear ache, shortness of breath or may be an isolated symptom depending on the cause.
Do I need to be seen?
If a hoarse voice persists for more than two weeks, laryngoscopy (fibre-optic examination of the larynx by an ENT surgeon) is necessary to exclude malignancy, especially in a smoker. It is fortunate that because of this change in voice laryngeal cancer tends to present early.
This will obviously depend upon the cause. If the patient has singer’s nodules (swelling on the vocal cords caused by vocal abuse), voice rest and speech therapy may be all that is necessary. However, if there is concern that there is a growth on the vocal cord, a biopsy will be necessary.
The following measures will also help:
- stop smoking
- don’t force your voice – conserve it!
- maintain hydration, eg drinking water rather than alcohol
- air humidification