July 01, 2018

Hoarseness

Finding your voice again

Your voice sounds terrible. Whether it's from a cold or a session of loud cheering for your favorite sports team, you've likely experienced hoarseness. While hoarseness is usually temporary, it can be persistent. Getting to the root of the issue can help you regain your voice.

Behind the voice

Your voice is formed when air from your lungs is pushed out through the vocal cords — also called vocal folds — in your voice box (larynx). The vocal cords are two folds of tissue that cover muscle within a cartilage framework. As air passes over the vocal cords they vibrate, allowing sounds to fluctuate, which allows you to speak.

Swelling and inflammation of the vocal cords (laryngitis) is a common cause of hoarseness. Fortunately, most laryngitis is acute, meaning it comes on quickly and clears up in a few days to weeks. Laryngitis is most often associated with a viral respiratory infections or extended periods of talking or singing. In these cases, simple remedies that may help speed healing include drinking plenty of liquids, using throat lozenges and resting your voice.

When to see your doctor

If your hoarseness persists longer than two to four weeks and you haven't had a cold or another condition to explain it, see your doctor for an evaluation. Also, see a doctor immediately if you have other worrisome signs and symptoms including a lump in your neck, difficulty breathing or coughing up blood. These can indicate a serious underlying problem.

Your doctor will likely begin the exam by reviewing your medical history, symptoms and any potentially triggering factors. The quality of your voice also may be evaluated. For example, your voice may sound breathy or weak, or have a tremor quality that may offer clues to the source of the medical problem. Your doctor may perform a visual examination...