Hoarseness, also known as dysphonia, is an abnormal quality of the voice that may be described as rough, raspy, weak, breathy, or strained. Hoarseness may also be characterized by pitch changes, either higher or lower than normal. Some people may have breaks when the voice “cuts out” completely. All of these changes can result in difficulty speaking and/or singing. Voice changes may occur suddenly or gradually over time.
Hoarseness is usually caused by an abnormality of the vocal folds or the surrounding structures in the larynx (voice box). Hoarseness may be due to acute laryngitis from colds/illnesses or vocal strain, benign vocal fold lesions, vocal fold atrophy/aging voice, muscle tension dysphonia, early vocal fold cancer, laryngopharyngeal reflux, or neurologic conditions such as spasmodic dysphonia and vocal tremor. Hoarseness can also occur due to lung problems or abnormalities in how air flows through the vocal folds when speaking and singing.
Diagnosis of Hoarseness
Your doctor will examine your throat, neck, and mouth and ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. If your hoarseness lasts more than 2-3 weeks, you should see an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor with expertise in voice disorders (called a laryngologist). If your child is experiencing hoarseness, our pediatric ENT providers have the expertise to help.
At the Voice and Swallowing Center, you will be evaluated by one of our fellowship-trained laryngologists and likely one of our voice-specialized speech-language pathologists. Our team frequently coordinates the laryngology and voice pathology appointments on the same day to give you a comprehensive one-stop evaluation.
During your initial visit at the Voice Center, expect to undergo the following assessments:
- Video Laryngostroboscopy - Your larynx, which contains your vocal cords, will be examined with a special instrument attached to a light source to get a good look at your voice box and the functioning of your vocal cords.
- Perceptual, Acoustic, and Aerodynamic Voice Evaluation – the voice pathologist will analyze the acoustic (sound) and phonatory aerodynamic (airflow) characteristics of your voice to better assess the nature and severity of your voice disorder.
Additional tests may be necessary, depending on the cause of the hoarseness.
Treatment for Hoarseness
Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). If hoarseness continues, our team of specialized healthcare providers will work with you to determine the underlying cause and develop an individualized treatment plan that works for you. Many voice disorders can be treated with a few voice therapy sessions that focus on rehabilitating and optimizing the vocal system. In some cases, medications or surgery are recommended for improving voice conditions. Learn more about voice disorders.