Abnormal changes in a person’s voice are called hoarseness and are related to problems with the sound-producing parts (vocal cords) of the voicebox (larynx). The voice may sound strained, weak, raspy or breathy and can affect a person’s ability to work and communicate. To produce sound when speaking or singing, the vocal cords come together and vibrate in a special wave. Any disorder that produces a lump or swelling on the vocal cords will change the quality, strength and pitch (how high or low) of the voice. This is especially important in people whose career depends on their voice, such as singers and deejays.
A hoarse voice may be the result of many factors:
- Infection such as acute laryngitis which occurs typically during a cold or the flu
- Voice misuse e.g. shouting, excessive voice use
- Vocal cord lesions e.g. polyps, cysts, nodules
- Acid reflux
- Neurological disorders e.g. after a stroke
- Cancer of the voicebox (larynx)
Anyone who has a hoarse voice which does not get better after 2 weeks should have a thorough checkup by an experienced ENT specialist, especially if they smoke or have previously smoked.
Treatment will depend on the cause but simple tips to prevent hoarseness include:
- Stop smoking
- Drink plenty of water
- Minimise caffeine intake (don’t drink too much coffee or tea)
- Minimise alcohol intake
- Avoid spicy foods