What is Hoarseness?

Hoarseness is a condition marked by changes in the pitch or quality of the voice, which may sound weak, scratchy or husky. Hoarseness can be caused by misuse or overuse of the voice, viruses, and growths on the vocal cords like cysts, papillomas, polyps and nodules, among other things.

What are the causes for hoarseness?

Acute laryngitis: The most common cause of hoarseness is acute laryngitis. A cold, viral infection in your breathing tract, or voice strain can make your vocal cords swell. You can seriously damage your vocal cords if you talk while you have laryngitis.

Non-cancerous vocal cord lesions: Nodules, polyps, and cysts usually develop after prolonged trauma to the vocal cords from talking too much, too loudly, or with bad technique.

Pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions: Pre-cancer or cancerous lesions on the vocal cords can also cause hoarseness. If it lasts four weeks or more, or if you are at a higher risk of developing throat cancer (i.e., you smoke), you should have your voice box evaluated by an ENT specialist.

Neurological diseases or disorders: Hoarseness can occur with Parkinson’s disease or after a stroke. A rare disorder called spasmodic dysphonia can also create hoarseness or uneasy breathing. A paralyzed vocal cord, usually after surgery, viral illness, or injury, may also cause a weak, breathy voice.

Vocal cord atrophy: As we age, our vocal cords become thinner (decreased bulk) and floppy (decreased tone). This is not due to talking too much or too little, it’s just a fact of life. A raspy voice that changes from day to day with decreased power is common.

Vocal cord hemorrhage: You can lose your voice after yelling or other strenuous vocal activity if a blood vessel/blood blister breaks, filling the vocal cord with blood. This is a vocal emergency and should be treated with complete voice rest and examination by an ENT specialist.

Hoarseness, a strained or raspy voice, can manifest in Hong Kong due to several factors. These include:

Pollution: The air pollution levels in Hong Kong are notably high, which can irritate the respiratory system and lead to hoarseness.

Climate: Hong Kong’s hot and humid climate can contribute to dehydration, resulting in the drying out of the vocal cords and subsequent hoarseness.

Vocal strain: With its bustling nature and crowded areas, people in Hong Kong often speak loudly, putting strain on their vocal cords and leading to hoarseness.

Allergies: Hong Kong experiences a high pollen count, particularly during spring and summer months. Allergies can trigger post-nasal drip, irritating the vocal cords and causing hoarseness.

Acid reflux: The prevalence of spicy and greasy foods in Hong Kong can contribute to acid reflux, leading to irritation and inflammation of the vocal cords that results in hoarseness.

Treatments for hoarseness

Hoarseness, also known as dysphonia, is a condition characterized by an abnormal change in the voice quality, making it sound rough, strained, breathy, or otherwise altered. It can be caused by various factors such as vocal misuse or abuse, respiratory infections, allergies, acid reflux, vocal cord nodules or polyps, muscle tension, nerve damage, certain medications, or even tumors.

The treatment approach for hoarseness largely depends on its underlying cause. In many cases, hoarseness can be self-limiting and will resolve on its own without medical intervention. However, if hoarseness persists for more than two weeks or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, seeking medical advice is essential to rule out any serious conditions.

One of the primary treatments for hoarseness is vocal hygiene. This includes avoiding habits that strain the vocal cords, such as excessive shouting, screaming, or speaking loudly for long periods. It is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding irritants like alcohol and caffeine, as they can dry out the vocal cords. Additionally, one should strive to maintain good general health, as factors like smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise can contribute to hoarseness.

Voice therapy is another commonly prescribed treatment for hoarseness. It involves working with a speech-language pathologist who specializes in voice disorders. The pathologist will assess the individual’s vocal habits, breathing techniques, and overall vocal health. They may recommend specific exercises to improve vocal quality, reduce tension, and promote proper vocal production. Voice therapy is particularly effective for individuals with vocal abuse or misuse as the cause of their hoarseness.

When hoarseness is caused by an underlying condition like acid reflux or allergies, addressing and managing these conditions can significantly improve vocal symptoms. Acid reflux, for instance, can lead to irritation and swelling of the vocal cords. Treating the reflux with medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or lifestyle modifications like avoiding acidic foods and eating smaller meals can help alleviate hoarseness.

In cases where hoarseness is due to vocal cord nodules or polyps (noncancerous growths), surgical intervention may be necessary. Vocal cord surgery aims to remove the nodules or polyps to restore normal vocal function. However, surgery is typically reserved for severe cases or when conservative approaches have failed to improve the symptoms.

In certain instances, where hoarseness is caused by nerve damage or vocal cord paralysis, interventions like injection laryngoplasty or thyroplasty can be performed. These procedures aim to reposition the vocal cords or augment their function, leading to better voice production.

It is worth mentioning that if hoarseness is caused by an underlying malignancy, treatment will depend on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer. Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these modalities.

The treatment of hoarseness depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Vocal hygiene, voice therapy, management of underlying conditions, and surgical interventions are some of the approaches used to treat hoarseness. Seeking medical advice is crucial for proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment, especially when hoarseness persists beyond two weeks or is associated with other concerning symptoms.

The information on this website is for general educational purpose only. Readers should consult their physician before considering treatment, and should not interpret their condition solely based on the information above.