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When the vocal cords in your throat become inflamed, it can make your voice hoarse. When you have a hoarse voice, it may be hard to speak loudly, and your voice may sound weak, breathy, strained, low, or rough. Your throat might also feel irritated and scratchy.
Medical experts call this condition “dysphonia.” Many different things can cause dysphonia, and the treatment will depend on what is causing it.
As people age, it’s not uncommon for them to experience dysphonia, which is when their voice becomes hoarse and difficult to speak clearly. However, it’s important to note that dysphonia can also be a sign of a more serious health condition.
Healthcare professionals should be aware that if patients have been experiencing dysphonia for more than 4 weeks or if they have other concerning symptoms or risk factors, they need to be evaluated further. (1)
Burden of Dysphonia
Dysphonia can affect people of all ages and genders, with a lifetime prevalence of 30%. Those who use their voice often, such as singers, teachers, coaches, and telephone operators, are at an increased risk of developing dysphonia.
In some cases, dysphonia can be a sign of something more serious, such as vocal fold malignancy. Although this condition is rare, with an incidence of 7 cases per 100,000 in the general population, it’s important to seek medical attention if you have any concerns about changes in your voice or other symptoms. (1)(2)
Treating Hoarseness of Voice
A hoarse voice due to a viral infection will typically get better on its own without needing any special treatment. However, other conditions may require more than just waiting and watching. (3)
For example, if your hoarseness is caused by a growth on your vocal cords, simply waiting it out won’t make it go away. In these cases, you may need to have the growth surgically removed to improve your voice and restore the normal function of your vocal cords.
The available evidence shows that voice therapy, surgery on the vocal cords, and drug therapy can be effective treatments for certain groups of people with hoarseness. (3)
While seeking medical treatment for hoarseness is important, there are also some self-care measures you can take at home to help manage your symptoms and feel better.
How to manage hoarseness of voice at home
The following measures can help restore the normal sound of your voice.
1. Rest your voice
Hoarseness can often be caused by overusing your voice or speaking too loudly or continuously without taking breaks.
In these situations, it’s important to rest your voice and avoid putting too much strain on your vocal cords. You may also find it helpful to communicate with gestures instead of speaking.
Whispering can actually make your hoarseness worse, so it’s best to avoid whispering and to speak normally if you need to communicate with others.
And try to resist the urge to shout or speak loudly, as these actions can also put a lot of strain on your voice and make your hoarseness worse.
By taking these simple steps, you can help reduce hoarseness and promote better vocal health over time. (4)
2. Keep your throat moist
If you’re dealing with a hoarse voice, it’s crucial to keep your throat properly hydrated. One simple way to do this is by gargling with salt water. Additionally, chewing unsweetened gum at regular intervals can help keep your throat moist and promote better vocal health.
The best way to keep your throat moist is to drink water. You might also find relief by sucking on throat lozenges, which can provide a soothing sensation while also helping to keep your throat moist. (5)
3. Quit smoking and avoid dusty places
Smoking can make your throat dry, which can lead to hoarseness. In addition, smoking can irritate your vocal cords, which can further contribute to the problem.
That’s why it’s highly recommended that you quit smoking altogether or avoid taking up this habit in the first place.
Moreover, to prevent the worsening of hoarseness, avoid spending time in smoke-filled rooms or dusty environments. (6)
4. Do steam inhalation
You can improve the hoarseness of your voice by inhaling steam or taking a hot shower. This helps to add moisture to the airways and ease symptoms.
Another option is to use a humidifier in your room to keep the air around you moist. This can help to moisten the upper airway and make it easier to clear out mucus and other substances. This is highly beneficial, especially in cases of laryngitis, a common cause of hoarse voice. (7)(8)
How Is Dysphonia Diagnosed?
A speech therapist will listen to your voice, ask questions, and do some tests. They might use a special tool (laryngoscope) with a camera to look at your vocal cords and throat and make a video of the exam so you can see it too. (9)
How Can I Prevent a Hoarse Voice?
To prevent hoarseness, you need to understand what causes it. Identify triggers and avoid them.
Other ways of preventing a hoarse voice include:
- Warm up your voice before extensive use. Simply take in air with your mouth closed. Then, exhale through your nose as if you are sighing. This can help in relaxing your voice. Moreover, sing from your diaphragm to avoid straining your voice.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages, but if you can’t, drink an extra glass of water after consuming caffeinated or alcoholic beverages to prevent vocal fold dehydration. Drink water until your urine is clear. Focus on drinking plenty of other hydrating fluids, such as water, herbal tea, or fruit juice. (5)
- Try to get proper sleep of about 8 hours and have a balanced diet.
- Avoid chocolate, nuts, mints, fatty foods, and late-night eating, and eliminate spicy or high-acid foods.
- Avoid excessive usage of Listerine and mouthwashes as they contain alcohol and thus they can have a drying effect on your throat. Instead, sip water or use a dry swallow or silent cough (“huh”) if you must cough.
- If you use anti-allergy medication or steroids, drink at least 80+ ounces of water and consider guaifenesin (Mucinex), which is a medication that increases and thins mucus.
- Speakers should avoid the use of aspirin products (Aleve, Motrin, Advil, etc.), especially on the day they need to speak excessively. If coupled with excessive voice use, these agents thin your blood and can affect vocal cords. Tylenol is acceptable.
- If you are in a vocally demanding profession such as sales or teaching, schedule 10 minutes of vocal rest per hour. (10)
When to Visit an ENT Specialist?
If you’ve been dealing with hoarseness of voice for more than 3–4 weeks or if you’re experiencing other concerning symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a shaky voice, a lump or swelling in your neck, chronic cough, or persistent ear pain alongside your hoarseness, it may be time to schedule an appointment with an ENT specialist. (11)(9)(12)
Most-Asked Questions About a Hoarse Voice
What are the causes of a hoarse voice?
A hoarse voice can be due to a number of reasons, which include:
- Laryngitis (7)
- Habitual causes such as singing, speaking too loud, and speaking excessively (3)
- Vocal cyst (12)
- Vaping: It involves inhaling and exhaling vapors that contain nicotine and flavoring through a specially designed device. This can also dry your throat.
- Thyroid issues: Even mild thyroid failure can lead to voice changes because thyroid hormone receptors have been found in the larynx. (13)
- Laryngeal cancer, vocal cord paralysis, Parkinson’s disease, sinus infection, drug abuse, GERD, etc.
- Postnasal drip from chronic allergy (3)(12)
What are the signs that your voice is becoming hoarse?
Hoarseness of voice is accompanied by symptoms such as: (14)
- Dry throat
- Excessive coughing
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sour taste in the mouth
Does whispering help in treating a hoarse voice or will make it worse?
Most people do not whisper in a way that is good for the voice. When whispering, some people strain to produce sound and make it audible. It can be as bad for your voice as shouting.
Hoarseness of voice, or dysphonia, can be caused by various factors, such as overusing your voice, viral infections, growths on vocal cords, or even more serious health conditions.
It is crucial to seek medical attention if hoarseness persists for more than 4 weeks, if there are other concerning symptoms, or if you are at risk. Treatment for hoarseness can include voice therapy, surgery, or drug therapy, depending on the cause.
While seeking medical treatment, self-care measures such as resting your voice, keeping your throat moist, breathing moist air, and avoiding coffee, alcohol, smoking, and dusty environments can help manage the symptoms.