What is hoarseness?
Hoarseness is a condition marked by changes in the pitch or quality of the voice, which may sound weak, scratchy or husky. Hoarseness can be caused by misuse or overuse of the voice, viruses, and growths on the vocal cords like cysts, papillomas, polyps and nodules, among other things. Acid reflux from the stomach may also cause hoarseness.
What are symptoms of hoarseness?
- Abnormally weak, breathy or coarse voice
- Change in voice pitch
- Using that the voice is more effortful or fatigues easily
Depending on the underlying condition causing the hoarseness, other symptoms may be present. For example, a viral illness can also result in a sore throat, coughing and sneezing. Sometimes, hoarseness can be associated with change in swallowing or breathing.
How is hoarseness diagnosed?
- Physical exam of the head and neck
- Laryngoscopy (visualization of the larynx with a laryngoscope), usually performed in a doctor’s office
- Possibly imaging tests of the vocal cords and throat
The underlying cause will determine the treatment, so proper testing and diagnosis are crucial. Hoarseness caused by a viral infection will go away on its own most of the time. Other conditions may require treatment other than watchful waiting — for instance, hoarseness related to a growth on the vocal cords generally will not improve unless the lesion is removed surgically.
When to Call for Help
If hoarseness does not resolve on its own within a week or two, if it causes difficulty in your social or professional life, or if it is associated with other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing or an enlarged lymph node in your neck, an otolaryngologist should evaluate your voice changes.