What is hoarseness?

Hoarseness is a symptom of an irritated voice box. When you are hoarse, your voice sounds unnaturally low, deep, or raspy. Depending on the cause, hoarseness can last for hours to weeks, or it can be a life-long condition.

What is the cause?

Hoarseness can be a symptom of a cold, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, and other infections or allergies. Hoarseness can be caused by:

  • Heavy smoking or drinking
  • Overuse of your voice, such as in teaching or public speaking, shouting or singing
  • Coughing hard
  • Exposure to dust, chemicals, or cigarette smoke
  • Thyroid disease
  • Noncancerous growths on the vocal cords
  • Acid reflux from the stomach
  • Cancer of the vocal cords

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. If your hoarseness lasts for more than a few weeks you may have tests to check for possible causes of your symptoms. You may have tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Laryngoscopy, which uses a slim, flexible, lighted tube passed through your mouth to look at your vocal cords
  • A biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the throat
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the throat

How is it treated?

If another health problem is causing the hoarseness, such as thyroid disease, acid reflux, or sinusitis, treatment for that problem will also treat the hoarseness. If no other health problem has caused hoarseness, the main treatment is resting your voice as much as you can. Symptoms should improve in a few days.

Your healthcare provider may recommend using a steroid spray to help your voice box heal faster. Using a steroid for a long time can have serious side effects. Take steroid medicine exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes. Don’t take more or less of it than prescribed by your provider and don’t take it longer than prescribed. Don’t stop taking a steroid without your provider’s approval. You may have to lower your dosage slowly before stopping it.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition

  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking.
  • Avoid breathing dust and chemical fumes.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible.
  • Drink extra fluids, such as water, fruit juice, and tea.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent hoarseness?

  • Get plenty of rest when you have an infection, such as a cold or sinusitis.
  • Avoid vocal strain by not yelling, screaming, or talking loudly, especially when you have a cold or other throat or sinus infection.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
  • If you have frequent heartburn or reflux disease, see your healthcare provider about preventing or treating these problems.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-03
Last reviewed: 2014-09-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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