Frequently Asked Questions

What is hoarseness?

Hoarseness is one of the many ways a negative change in the voice can be described. Hoarseness tends to gather roughness, breathiness, strain, raspiness, etc. under one umbrella term. Negative changes in the voice may be an indicator that the vocal folds have changed. The vocal folds, also known as the vocal cords or “voice box”, are the sound-producing structures that make the voice possible. When the vocal folds are working well they both move to open up the airway when you breathe in, then come together and vibrate when you do things like talk, laugh, sing, and cough. Anything that causes this vibration to change (like swelling, a bruise, a lesion, a muscle spasm, reduced movement of the vocal folds, etc.) will cause the voice to sound atypical. Hoarseness can occur for many reasons, such as an upper respiratory infection (URI) like a cold, extensive voice use (like classroom teaching), bombastic voice use (like cheering at a football game), etc. Changes in the voice can be the sign of a more serious underlying change in the body and should not be ignored. Hoarseness that is recurring or lasts more than 2 weeks is not typical and should be addressed by a medical professional. Consult an ENT that specializes in voice, also known as a Laryngologist, for further evaluation.

I’m hoarse, is there anything I can do to make it better?

First line of defense for a change in voice is to give it a rest and focus on hydration. Having a hoarse voice is not normal and should be avoided if at all possible. If rest and hydration alone do not help to improve the voice and the change lasts for 2 weeks or more, it is important evaluated by a Laryngologist. Voice therapy is often the first line of treatment for hoarseness and can be very effective in resolving symptoms and preventing them from re-occurring.

Can I protect my voice?

Yes. As a matter of fact, keeping the voice healthy is important for everyone. Research tells us that children learn better with teachers that have a clear voice, children with clearer voices are more likely to participate in class, and in general quality of life improves with a good voice.

Here are some ways to start taking better care of your voice:

  • Keep well hydrated
  • Take voice breaks throughout the day. Try taking a 5 minute “vocal vacation” every hour and see if it makes a difference
  • Keep conversation at arms distance – it will help keep you from straining to be heard
  •  Just like any other active system in the body, warming up and cooling down is important before vigorous activity

What causes tumors or cancers of the voice box?

Smoking, especially in combination with heavy alcohol consumption, significantly increases the chances of developing cancer of the larynx. Exposure to toxic substances such as asbestos and human papilloma virus (HPV) can also lead to cancer of the larynx.

Signs associated with cancer of the larynx include:

  • Changes in the voice (hoarseness) that lasts for longer than 2 weeks and does not improve with rest
  • Coughing and spitting up blood
  • Difficulty and pain with swallowing
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes

If you are concerned about the possibility of having cancer of the larynx, it is important that you consult your physician for appropriate evaluation."

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