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What is Hoarseness?

Hoarseness, also called dysphonia, is an abnormal change in the quality of the voice, which can sound breathy, raspy, or strained. It often results from issues with the vocal cords.

The vocal cords, also known as vocal folds, are two bands of muscle tissue located in the larynx (voice box). They play a crucial role in producing sound for speech and singing. The vocal folds are separated when you breathe, but when you make sound, they come together and vibrate as air leaves your lungs. Anything that alters the vibration or closure of the vocal cords results in hoarseness.

Causes of Hoarseness

Hoarseness may result from several causes, such as:

  • Acute Laryngitis: This is the most common cause and is usually due to a viral infection, overuse of the voice, or irritation.
  • Chronic Laryngitis: Long-term irritation from factors such as smoking, alcohol use, or exposure to irritants.
  • Vocal Cord Nodules or Polyps: Benign growths on the vocal cords due to vocal strain or overuse.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Acid reflux can irritate the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness.
  • Allergies: Postnasal drip from allergies can irritate the vocal cords.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke is a major irritant and can cause hoarseness.
  • Thyroid Problems: Thyroid disorders can sometimes affect the voice.
  • Neurological Conditions: Conditions like Parkinson's disease or a stroke can affect the nerves that control the vocal cords.
  • Cancer: Tumors on the vocal cords, larynx, or nearby structures can cause hoarseness.

Symptoms of Hoarseness

Common symptoms of hoarseness include:

  • Voice changes, such as strained, breathy, raspy, weak, lower or higher in pitch, fatigued, inconsistent, or shaky voice
  • Frequent clearing of the throat
  • Difficulty speaking

Diagnosis of Hoarseness

Diagnosis of hoarseness typically involves:

  • A medical history review and physical examination
  • Laryngoscopy: Visual examination of the vocal cords using a scope.
  • Voice Assessment: Performed by a speech-language pathologist.
  • Imaging: CT scans or MRIs if a tumor or other structural issue is suspected.

Treatment for Hoarseness

The treatment for hoarseness depends on its underlying cause and may include:

General Treatments

  • Voice Rest: Limit speaking and avoid whispering or shouting to give your vocal cords a chance to heal.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids to keep the vocal cords moist. Warm water, herbal teas, and throat lozenges can be soothing.
  • Humidification: Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air, especially in dry environments.
  • Avoid Irritants: Stay away from smoke, pollutants, and allergens that can irritate the vocal cords.

Specific Treatments

Acute Laryngitis:

  • Rest and Hydration: Allow time for recovery.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help with discomfort.

Chronic Laryngitis:

  • Avoiding Irritants: Reduce exposure to smoke, alcohol, and other irritants.
  • Treating GERD: Medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers can reduce acid reflux.

Vocal Cord Nodules or Polyps:

  • Voice Therapy: Speech-language pathologists can teach techniques to reduce strain on the vocal cords.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgical removal of nodules or polyps may be necessary.


  • Diet and Lifestyle Changes: Avoiding spicy foods, eating smaller meals, and not lying down immediately after eating.
  • Medications: PPIs, H2 blockers, or antacids to reduce acid reflux.


  • Allergy Medications: Antihistamines or nasal corticosteroids to reduce postnasal drip.
  • Environmental Control: Reducing exposure to allergens.

Smoking Cessation:

  • Quit Smoking: Counseling, nicotine replacement therapy, or medications can help quit smoking.

Neurological Conditions:

  • Treatment of Underlying Condition: Managing conditions like Parkinson's disease or stroke through medication and therapy.

Thyroid Problems:

  • Thyroid Treatment: Medications to manage hypothyroidism or other thyroid issues.


  • Oncological Treatment: Surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy depending on the type and stage of cancer.

Location & DirectionsENT Jacksonville

1370 13th Avenue South, Suite 115 Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250

  • American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
  • American College of Surgeons
  • Georgetown University School of Medicine
  • Miller School of Medicine