Hoarseness is a change in your voice that causes you to sound scratchy when you speak. If this change in your voice lasts for more than three weeks, you should plan to see a physician who specializes in layrngology. A laryngologist is a surgeon who has completed training specialized in diseases and treatment of conditions that affect the ear, nose and throat. The laryngologist can diagnose the cause of your hoarseness.
While hoarseness is usually a benign condition that improves after a few weeks, it is sometimes a symptom of a serious health problem. It could be a sign of cancer on your vocal cords or an infection in your throat. By promptly visiting the specialty physician, you can get a fast diagnosis and initiate treatments that can help to prevent complications and new health problems.
Causes of Hoarseness
There are many conditions that contribute to or directly cause hoarseness. Laryngitis is one of the most common causes of this symptom. It involves inflammation of the vocal cords. Laryngitis may be a result of a viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection, acid reflux, allergies or overuse of your voice.
A granuloma, which is an abnormal growth on the back of the vocal cords, can also cause hoarseness. Nodules and polyps can also develop on the vocal cords and cause hoarseness. Nodules are non-cancerous and look like a thickened area of tissue, while polyps are small, fluid-filled lesions that are associated with vocal overuse.
Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV) can cause small growths that look like warts. The HPV infection can sometimes lead to throat cancer. Papillary thyroid carcinoma, a rare type of thyroid cancer, and laryngeal cancer also cause early symptoms such as hoarseness.
How Hoarseness is Diagnosed
To diagnose hoarseness, the laryngologist may perform a laryngoscopy. This is an examination of your throat, larynx and vocal cords with the use of a lighted scope. A stroboscopy exam involves flashing a bright light to illuminate your vocal cords during the exam. These two methods make use of current technology and allow the laryngologist to make a diagnosis at the time of your office visit.
Treatments for Hoarseness
Your physician will recommend a treatment based on the cause of your hoarseness. In a case of overuse of your voice, your doctor may recommend resting and participating in voice therapy so you can identify the behaviors that caused the nodules to form. Your laryngolgist may also recommend some lifestyle and behavioral changes, such as quitting the use of chewing tobacco and stopping smoking cigarettes. You may also be advised to avoid caffeine and alcohol. Avoiding secondhand smoke and allergens may also help.
Your doctor may suggest increasing your water intake to prevent dry throat. Similarly, adding humidity to your home with a vaporizer or humidifier can prevent dry throat. Taking an antacid helps with reflux-associated hoarseness. Rarely, surgery is needed to remove growths.
Visiting a laryngologist is key to getting medical care for resolving hoarseness, regardless of its cause.