Reasons for hoarseness are varied, and identifying a solution and remedying the problem may be easier than you think.
Laryngitis involves inflammation of the voice box (larynx) from overuse, irritation or infection and typically manifests in the form of hoarseness. Many people experience hoarseness for a variety of reasons. Most at risk for developing hoarseness or a raspy voice quality are individuals who use their voices frequently as a matter of routine. Such examples include singers, teachers, stage performers, sports coaches, salespeople and call-center personnel.
“About one-third of us will develop some sort of voice problem in our lifetime,” said speech language pathologist Carrie Ruggiero, SLP, who treats patients at Penn State Health’s Lime Spring Outpatient Center in Lancaster, PA. “Hoarseness can be a sign that there is some level of swelling in your vocal folds,” she said. The most common cause of this condition is a cold or upper respiratory infection.
Both smoking and acid reflux can also serve as culprits sometimes causing hoarseness. A hoarse voice can likewise develop in older adults as they age. Additionally, hoarseness can result as a side effect of some medications or accompany some neurologic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Usually harmless, hoarseness often disappears on its own. However, if hoarseness hangs on for three or four weeks or longer, it’s advisable to consult your provider, particularly if you’re not experiencing any other symptoms of illness.
“It’s not normal to have persistent hoarseness outside of a cold, respiratory infection or the presence of allergens,” Ruggiero said. In some cases, hoarseness can be caused by serious conditions, such as head and neck cancers.
Most commonly, treatment for hoarseness involves resting the voice. However, some individuals benefit from vocal therapy, which often includes a combination of breathing exercises, massage and vocal modification techniques. “Voice therapy can help eliminate muscle tension, help with vocal modification and address the causes of hoarseness,” Ruggiero said.
Additional methods to relieve hoarseness include drinking water with each meal, reducing both caffeine and alcohol consumption and limiting attempts to speak over loud background noise. “People don’t realize that there’s a lot we can do to help them through an acute case of hoarseness,” Ruggiero said. “You don’t have to live with it.”