Hoarseness Symptoms

By:    Published: October 4, 2012

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If you’ve ever had a hoarse voice, you know how uncomfortable it can be. This symptom can be associated with a wide variety of conditions. In addition, the symptom itself can take on many forms. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to prevent hoarseness, many of which can be done right at home.

Definition

Hoarseness is a symptom that involves abnormal changes in an individual’s voice, either having to do with the quality, volume or pitch of the voice.

It’s important to understand that hoarseness is a symptom and not a disease. It is usually related to some other illness, condition or disease that affects the vocal folds, which are the sound-producing parts of the voice box. Inflammation of the larynx may also be involved with this symptom.

Types

There are two main types of hoarseness. The first is acute hoarseness, which only lasts a short time. Chronic hoarseness is the term used to describe hoarseness that persists for two weeks or more. The length of time during which hoarseness is experienced is often a result of the severity of the cause of the hoarseness. Often, acute hoarseness can be treated at home. Chronic hoarseness, on the other hand, typically necessitates requires a doctor’s appointment and medical or surgical treatment.

Symptoms

There are several signs of hoarseness, which itself is a symptom of other conditions. The signs of hoarseness are changes in the sound of someone’s voice. Those changes can include a breathy, raspy or strained sound as well as changes in the volume or pitch of the voice.

In some cases, the sound of a hoarse voice may correlate with certain symptoms. For example, a raspy voice may indicate swelling of the vocal cords caused by an infection, a chemical irritant or voice overuse. Meanwhile, a high, shaky voice could be caused by a foreign object in the trachea or another condition where the individual is having trouble getting enough air.

Causes And Risk Factors

There are numerous possible causes of hoarseness. These causes are generally conditions or diseases which include hoarseness as a common symptom, such as:

  • Acid reflux
  • Common cold
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Allergies
  • Chronic cough
  • Heavy smoking or drinking, especially when done in conjunction
  • Voice overuse or abuse (Loud shouting, long periods of singing, etc.)
  • Breathing in irritating substances
  • Ingesting a harsh chemical liquid
  • Foreign object lodged in the trachea or esophagus
  • Nerve or muscle disorders affecting the muscles around the voice box
  • Puberty
  • Underactive thyroid gland
  • Vocal cord nodules
  • Use of a breathing tube
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Trauma to the voice box
  • Cancer of the throat, larynx, thyroid gland or lungs
  • Aneurysms of the upper aorta
  • Nerve damage to nerves affecting the voice

Prevention

There are several ways to help prevent hoarseness, including:

  • Using a humidifier in your home
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Limit your intake of liquids which dehydrate you, like alcohol and caffeinated drinks
  • Don’t overuse your voice or speak/sing too loudly
  • Avoid spicy foods

It’s important to note that some causes of hoarseness may not be preventable, such as certain cancers and nerve disorders.

Home Remedies

Acute hoarseness is usually treatable at home with certain remedies and lifestyle changes. To effectively treat acute hoarseness at home, the first step is to rest your voice as much as possible. In addition, stop smoking if possible and drink plenty of fluids. Use a humidifier with a vaporizer if you have access to one.

You can also treat the underlying cause of your hoarseness, such as allergies or the common cold, if you know what it is. However, avoid decongestants since these dry the vocal cords out.

Treatment

If your hoarseness persists for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. A medical professional will help you to figure out the underlying cause of your hoarseness and treat that condition in order to get your voice back to normal.

Several diagnostic procedures may be required to figure out how to best treat the hoarseness and its underlying cause. Those procedures could include a throat examination with a mirror, an x-ray of the neck, a CT scan, a throat culture or a laryngoscopy. In more serious cases, surgery may be required to repair the vocal cords or remove nodules that have formed there.

Keep in mind that if you have any difficulty breathing or swallowing along with your hoarseness you should make a doctor’s appointment regardless of how long your hoarseness has been going on. In addition, see a doctor right away if any infant less than 3 months old has a hoarse voice or a child has hoarseness for over a week.

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