Ear, Nose & Throat

Hoarseness and Smoker’s Voice – Symptoms, Remedies

written by Becki Andrus

Smoking can be a hard habit to kick, and it often leads to symptoms that affect your voice over time. When you are breathing in cigarette smoke, it irritates the vocal cords. As a result, it’s possible to experience long-term voice problems because of chronic inflammation.

Researchers have found that a smoker’s risk of voice disorders is three times higher than a non-smoker. This risk is increased for current smokers and patients who have long-lasting damage from smoking in the past.

Voice Hoarseness: What You Need to Know

Keep in mind that hoarseness is a symptom, indicating an underlying cause affecting the vocal cords. When abnormal vocal changes occur, something is affecting the way the delicate tissues in the voice are vibrating.

The larynx often referred to as the voice box, has sound-producing tissue that works through vibration. When something affects the movement of these tissues, it could cause a change in sound when a person talks or sings.

Mild or moderate cases of hoarseness mean that the vibrations are still occurring, but the voice sounds different. In severe situations, hoarseness can lead to a loss of voice, which means that the vibrations are no longer happening.

Symptoms of Hoarseness

Have you recently noticed a change in your voice? Symptoms of hoarseness can vary from one person to the next and might include:

  • Change in Pitch: Causing a person’s voice to sound higher or lower than usual.
  • Different Sounds: The voice sounds strained, raspy, or breathy.
  • Volume Variations: The loudness of the pitch is different. It might be hard to talk quietly.

If there is any change in the sound of your voice, that can often fall under that category of hoarseness.

Causes of Vocal Hoarseness

When the voice is hoarse, it means there is likely an underlying cause affecting the vocal cords. Common causes of hoarseness include:

  • Smoking
  • Viral infection in the upper respiratory tract
  • Head cold
  • Voice overuse
  • Talking too loudly or yelling
  • Acid reflux
  • Allergies
  • Trauma to the voice box

All of these causes result in irritation or inflammation in the vocal cord tissue. The good news is that many types of voice hoarseness are reversible. When the tissue heals, then the voice will be restored.

How Smoking Affects the Vocal Cords

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) calls smoking a form of vocal cord abuse because of the damage that occurs to the tissues. This ongoing damage can change the way your vocal cords work, which affects the way your voice sounds.

Initially, smoking causes hoarseness, which can lead to losing your voice – or even chronic laryngitis.

Smoking can also result in other serious illnesses that affect the throat and voice. For example, the risk of laryngeal cancer goes up in smokers. Since cancer can spread to other parts of the body, including the tongue and lungs, smokers have a higher risk of premature death from laryngeal cancer.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are often associated with smoking. Additionally, it’s possible that smoking could increase the risk of vocal cord hemorrhages because of blood pressure changes and circulation.

Not only does smoking affect the throat, but it can cause a domino effect of other health conditions that can affect the overall body: heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and stroke.

Treatment and Prevention for Smoker’s Voice

The vocal cords can heal quickly, but you must stop the irritation to the delicate tissue. Each time you light up a cigarette, the smoke causes more irritation – leading to an ongoing inflammation that can cause lasting damage.

The sooner you stop smoking, the more effective you can be in preventing long-term damage to your voice. If you have chronic vocal hoarseness and are a smoker, then the first recommendation is to focus on smoking cessation.

Other treatments might help to minimize the hoarseness. But they can’t overcome the damage that is occurring from the cigarette smoke. Your ENT might suggest these treatments:

  • Resting the Voice: When the voice is hoarse, try minimizing the use of the voice for a few days. Most hoarseness can be treated by avoiding the irritation from overuse.
  • Smoking Cessation: You don’t have to navigate the challenges of overcoming this addiction without support. Doctors often recommend smoking cessation programs that help patients with the support needed when breaking the habit.
  • Second-Hand Smoke: Even if you aren’t bringing the cigarette up to your mouth, second-hand smoke can also cause irritation, leading to smoker’s voice. Avoid exposure to smoke whenever possible by maintaining distance when other people are smoking.
  • Hydration: Staying hydrated can soothe the vocal cords and promote healing. Choose water and avoid dehydrating beverages, such as caffeine and alcohol.
  • Humidifier: Sometimes, adding humidity in the air can help to moisten the vocal cords to minimize smoker’s voice. Try using a humidifier in your bedroom at night.
  • Surgery: If polyps or nodules have developed, then surgery might be recommended to remove the growths on the vocal folds.

Professional help is always recommended when your voice is chronically hoarse or injured. An ENT can help you uncover the underlying reasons for the changes in your voice.

Not only can an immediate treatment plan be implemented, but we can also help with the prevention of future issues that affect your vocal cords. When you quit smoking, it can decrease your risk – and move you down the path to better health overall.

Talk to an ENT about Smoker’s Voice

If you are tired of having a raspy, rough voice, then it might be time to seek help from an experienced doctor. An ENT specializes in various conditions relating to the throat, including smoker’s voice.

We offer services for ear, nose, and throat conditions for patients living near the Collin County or Dallas area. When you would like to schedule an appointment, contact us at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat. We have two offices nearby, in Frisco and Plano, TX. Request an appointment using our digital form, or call the office to talk to a member of our staff: (972) 596-4005.

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