Hoarseness is the term used to describe a change in the quality of your voice. You may notice a strained, raspy and/or breathy voice. You may also find it difficult to project your voice.
There are many conditions that result in hoarseness, fortunately most are not serious and settle after a short period of time. We speak by bringing the vocal cords (in the voice box) together. Anything which prevents this can lead to hoarseness.
Laryngitis: This is caused by swelling of the vocal cords after a cold / flu-like illness.
Polyps and Nodules: This often results from overuse or misuse of the voice especially in certain professions (teachers, call centre staff etc). These growths are not cancerous.
Reflux laryngitis: Thisis caused by irritation of the vocal cords by acid.
Vocal cord cancer: This is rare and usually (but not only) found in smokers.
Most cases of hoarseness will settle within days. It is important to rest the voice, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol and refrain from smoking during this time.
If hoarseness is severe, prolonged (more than 4 weeks), recurrent or associated with a sore throat, you must seek medical advice from your GP. Your GP may decide to refer you to an ENT specialist who will examine your throat to identify the cause of the hoarseness. The examination may include passing a flexible telescope to the back of the nose under local anaesthetic (fibre optic nasendoscopy) in the clinic. Depending on the findings, the following treatments may be considered:
If the cause of the hoarseness is due to straining of the voice, a speech therapist will assess you and may advise exercises to improve your vocal technique. This is often very successful.
This operation is sometimes required to remove nodules, polyps or growths from the vocal cords. It is carried out under general anaesthetic using a rigid telescope under magnification (Microlaryngoscopy). This type of operation may cure the problem by removing the abnormality and provide a specimen for diagnosis. It is usually done as a day case.