Hoarseness is a word that describes a change in the voice. This change will differ from person to person. Usually the voice takes on a rough, raspy quality, although it can also show signs of weakness or a changed in volume. It may also have become higher or lower pitched or become more strained. Words often used to describe the voice changes include ‘creaky’, ‘rough’, ‘squeaky’, ‘raspy’ and ‘breathy’
Causes Of Hoarseness
There are a number of causes of hoarseness, most of which are not serious and improve quickly with help. Hoarseness is caused when something alters the vocal cords in our voice box (larynx). Some voice changes are normal and not cause for concern. Children’s voices will change as they grow up, especially boys during the puberty years. Elderly people tend to gradually lose the quality and strength of their voice, particularly after the age of 70. These are natural causes of hoarseness that can not be helped but do not pose a threat.
The most common medical cause of hoarseness is a cold or a virus. This could be your common cold which is an infection in the nose, throat and larynx or a virus such as influenza. When a virus causes swelling of the vocal folds in the larynx and changes our voice, It is known as laryngitis. People who over use their voice, repeatedly clear their throat or shout a lot are more at risk of laryngitis, including people who smoke and drink.
There are less common causes of voice hoarseness, such as damage to the throat, benign tumours, cancer, Parkinson’s disease or a stroke.
If the hoarseness is the result of a virus, this will not require antibiotics. Your GP may advise the following:
• Minimise use of the voice and use it quietly
• Quit smoking
• Keep hydrated, especially with water.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol
• Use over the counter painkillers
If you experience any of the following, then your GP may feel there is a more serious reason for your voice hoarseness they may refer you to hospital.
• If you have not had a cold or virus
• If you are a heavy drinker or smoker
• If you have pain swollen or lumps in the neck / throat
• If the hoarseness persists for more than 3 weeks without improvement
In such situations, you will be referred to an ENT surgeon who will examine your larynx as well as undertake a general ENT examination. This is to rule out a structural problem with the larynx. If there any problems then they can be treated. This might involve speech therapy to strengthen the muscles of the voice box, or possibly surgery in some cases.