Human speech is complicated. You start by forcing air out of your lungs, which then passes over the vocal cords, two folds of tissue in your larynx (voice box). The air causes the vocal cords to vibrate, and when they touch, they produce the desired sound. If your voice is chronically hoarse, though, the vocal cords aren’t vibrating normally, which may result from a number of different causes. No matter what the cause, you have a voice disorder, and it may need medical attention.
At Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat in Surprise, Arizona, Dr. James Osborne and Dr. Bryan Smedley diagnose and treat a wide range of voice disorders, including a hoarse voice. Here’s what you need to know about the possible causes and when you should see a doctor for your condition.
What causes a voice disorder?
Voice disorders, medically known as dysphonia, can arise from many causes, including:
If extra tissue grows on the vocal cords, it can interfere with their normal function. Growths may appear in different forms, including:
- Cysts: fluid-filled sacs
- Nodules: callous-like bumps
- Lesions: areas of damaged tissue
- Scar tissue
- Granulomas: areas of chronic inflammation
- Polyps: small blisters
These can all alter the quality of your voice and may cause hoarseness.
Inflammation and swelling
The vocal cords can become inflamed for any number of reasons, such as respiratory illnesses (think laryngitis), seasonal allergies, acid reflux (GERD), smoking, alcohol, and voice overuse. The inflammation swells the cords, causing a change in sound.
Some underlying medical conditions affect the nerves controlling the vocal cords. Common culprits are multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, myasthenia gravis (muscle weakness), ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Huntington disease. Surgery that impacts the vocal nerves may also lead to hoarseness.
Disorders that affect thyroid hormones, the reproductive hormones estrogen or testosterone, and/or growth hormones can all lead to voice disorders.
Abuse, anything that strains the vocal cords and leads to muscle problems in the throat, is a functional rather than structural problem, but the end result is the same. Abuse includes excessive talking, loud shouting or singing, chronic coughing, smoking, and constant throat-clearing. These behaviors may cause calluses or blisters (nodes or polyps) to form on the cords, changing the quality of your voice.
When to see a doctor about your hoarse voice
While hoarseness from something like a cold usually goes away as soon as the virus runs its course, hoarseness that persists should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist at Oasis ENT. How our doctors treat your voice disorder largely depends on the underlying cause.
Some common treatments include:
If your hoarseness results from an underlying medical condition, medication may prove helpful. For example, antacids may reduce or eliminate GERD, and hormone replacement can tackle issues with thyroid, sex, or growth hormones.
If your hoarseness comes from muscle spasms in the vocal cords, injections of botulinum toxin (Botox®) may relax them enough to provide relief. If the cords’ folds don’t close properly, injections of fat or other fillers may rectify the problem.
Nodes, polyps, and other growths on the vocal cords may need to be surgically removed to restore proper function. If the problem is a cancerous tumor, you may need additional treatment such as radiation therapy. Your Oasis ENT doctor can coordinate your care with your oncologist.
Lifestyle changes are especially effective with vocal abuse. Learning to speak more softly, or resting your voice periodically, can help eliminate the strain that causes hoarseness. We can also teach you exercises that relax the cords and the muscles around them. In addition, staying properly hydrated and warming up before speaking or singing extensively are always good tips.
If your voice is hoarse and the problem doesn’t go away in a week or two, it’s time to come in to Oasis Ear, Nose, and Throat for an evaluation by one of our otolaryngologists. Give the office a call at 623-234-4640, or book online with us today.