Hoarseness is defined as an abnormal change in the voice, causing it to sound weak, raspy, scratchy, or husky, with alterations in pitch and volume. It’s the result of an inflammation of the vocal cords, and can be caused by a number of different factors.

What Causes Hoarseness?

When you breathe, your vocal folds remain apart. When speaking, air leaving the lungs causes them to come together and vibrate, producing sound. Any sort of swelling or irritation of the vocal cords affects their vibration, causing changes to the voice.

Colds and sinus infections are the most common causes of hoarseness. These conditions are short-lived, and symptoms should clear up within a week or two. Viral infections can lead to acute laryngitis, a swelling of the vocal folds that can cause a complete loss of voice on some occasions. Using your voice while suffering from acute laryngitis can cause serious damage to the vocal cords.

Another common cause of hoarseness is misuse of the voice. Raising your voice to speak in noisy situations, using your voice excessively, yelling, whispering, and using an inappropriate pitch can all strain your vocal cords. Other causes include benign vocal cord lesions, vocal hemorrhage, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), smoking, allergies, thyroid conditions, injury to the vocal cords, neurological disorders, and tumors.

Treating & Preventing Hoarseness

When dealing with hoarseness, the most important step you can take is resting your voice, especially when experiencing acute laryngitis. Stay hydrated – drink plenty of liquids, and use a humidifier to moisturize the air. Medical or surgical treatment depends on the underlying cause of your hoarseness, and will be evaluated on a patient-by-patient basis.

Preventing hoarseness involves learning how to use your voice properly. Use appropriate pitch and volume, and try not to speak excessively. Do not shout or whisper. When speaking for extended periods, drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, both of which can cause dehydration. Eliminate spicy foods from your diet, and if you smoke, quit.