If your voice sounds rough or husky, you may have dysphonia – commonly called hoarseness. Maybe you talked too loud in a crowded restaurant, or maybe there’s an underlying medical condition for this symptom. Hoarseness should go away after a short time but, if it lasts for three weeks or more, you should see your healthcare provider.
Hoarseness (dysphonia) is when your voice sounds raspy, strained or breathy. The volume (how loud or soft you speak) may be different and so may the pitch (how high or low your voice sounds). There are many causes of hoarseness but, fortunately, most are not serious and tend to go away after a short time.
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You can speak thanks to your vocal folds (vocal cords) and larynx (voice box). Your larynx sits above your trachea (windpipe) – the airway that goes down to your lungs. The vocal cords, which are two bands of muscle, are inside your larynx, and they open and close. When you speak, air from your lungs makes the cords vibrate, creating sound waves. If you relax (shorten) your vocal folds, your voice will sound deeper. It will be higher pitched if the vocal folds tense or elongate.
Hoarseness is very common. About one-third of people will have it at some point in their lives.
Anyone at any age can experience hoarseness. This symptom is most common in people who smoke and those who use their voices professionally like teachers, singers, sales representatives and call center operators
Hoarseness can be a symptom of lung cancer. It’s more commonly associated with laryngeal cancer.
No. Your vocal cords and larynx do not affect your heart.
Yes, stress (mental/emotional) is one of the more common causes of hoarseness.
Yes. Post nasal drip is one of several possible causes of hoarseness.
Hoarseness can sometimes be a symptom of laryngeal cancer.
There are several possible causes of hoarseness. Many are harmless. Causes include:
Depending on your symptoms, your usual healthcare provider may refer you to an otolaryngologist or ENT (ears, nose and throat specialist). After getting your medical history and a list of your medications, your ENT may ask the following questions:
After that, your ENT will want to listen to your voice and examine your head and neck. They’ll check for any lumps in your neck and examine your voice box using a laryngoscope, which is a lightened instrument that will be inserted into the back of your throat through your nostrils. If there is cause for concern, your healthcare provider may order the following tests:
Treatment depends on the condition causing the hoarseness. The conditions and their treatments include:
If you experience hoarseness repeatedly because you use your voice so much every day, you might need to see a speech-language pathologist for voice therapy. There are exercises you can do and you’ll be taught how to use your voice to avoid hoarseness.
There are some easy ways to prevent a hoarse voice. You should practice them especially if you use your voice for professional reasons, particularly if that’s every day. Try the following to help prevent hoarseness:
If your voice is still hoarse after three weeks, you should see your healthcare provider. You should see a healthcare provider before then if you have any of the following:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your voice is one of the most important tools for communication, so it’s important to keep it working well. Hoarseness can be annoying or – if you use your voice professionally – distressing. Take care of your voice by drinking enough water, avoiding caffeine and smoking and using a microphone or other amplification tool if you need to speak loudly. Remember to see your healthcare provider if the hoarseness lasts three weeks.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/18/2021.
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