Hoarseness, also known as dysphonia, refers to a difficulty making sounds when you’re trying to speak. Your voice may sound weak, breathy, scratchy, or husky, and the pitch or quality of your voice may change.
Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords – part of the voice box (larynx) which is located in your throat. When your vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell and this can cause hoarseness.
The most common cause of this inflammation or infection is a cold or sinus infection, which most often goes away on its own within 2 weeks.
However if more than 3 weeks has passed and all other symptoms of the infection have long since disappeared but the hoarseness remains, you should be evaluated by an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor with expertise in larynx disorders (called a laryngologist).
Other causes of hoarseness include:
- Carcinoma, typically a squamous cell variety
- Acid reflux, or silent reflux – laryngopharyngeal reflux
- Benign lesions, such as nodules, polyps, and cysts
- Aging of the larynx (presbylaryngis)
- Neuropathy, often from prolonged intubation, surgical trauma, malignancy
- Tumors and arterial abnormalities of the chest, both of which can interfere with the course of the recurrent laryngeal nerve
Your health care provider will examine your throat, neck and mouth and ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history.
Your provider may order the following tests:
Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Rest and time may improve hoarseness. If hoarseness continues, your health care provider will work with you to determine the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan that works for you.