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Hoarseness

Definition

Hoarseness refers to a difficulty making sounds when trying to speak. Vocal sounds may be weak, breathy, scratchy, or husky, and the pitch or quality of the voice may change.

Alternative Names

Voice strain; Dysphonia; Loss of voice

Considerations

Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords. The vocal cords are part of your voice box (larynx) located in the throat. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness.

The most common cause of hoarseness is a cold or sinus infection, which most often goes away on its own within 2 weeks.

A rare but serious cause of hoarseness that does not go away in a few weeks is cancer of the voice box.

Causes

Hoarseness may be caused by:

Less common causes include:

Home Care

Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Rest and time may improve hoarseness. Hoarseness that continues for weeks or months should be checked by a health care provider.

Things you can do at home to help relieve the problem include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will examine your throat, neck, and mouth and ask you some questions about your symptoms and medical history. These may include:

You may have one or more of the following tests:

References

Chang JI, Bevans SE, Schwartz SR. Otolaryngology clinic of North America: evidence-based practice: management of hoarseness/dysphonia. Otolaryngol Clin North Am. 2012 Oct;45(5):1109-26. PMID: 22980688. Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22980688.

Chio SS, Zalai GH. Voice disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 203.


Review Date: 11/25/2014
Reviewed By: Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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