Ear, Nose & Throat

When Should You See an ENT for Hoarseness?

written by Becki Andrus
When Should You See an ENT for Hoarseness?

Hoarseness is more than an inconvenience; it could be an indication of an underlying medical condition that needs to be treated.

If you notice changes in your voice, then it might be time to reach out to an experienced ENT for diagnosis and treatment.

What a Hoarse Voice Sounds Like

The vocal changes vary from one person to the next. Symptoms of a hoarse voice include:

  • Different Sounds: You might notice that your voice sounds strained, raspy, or breathy.
  • Volume Changes: Notice how the volume changes to affect how soft or loud you speak.
  • Vocal Pitch: Hoarseness can also affect the pitch to influence how high or low your voice sounds.

Additionally, patients sometimes notice different symptoms, such as:

  • The sensation of a lump in the throat
  • Sore throat
  • Persistent coughing
  • Mucus in the throat
  • A constant need to clear the throat
  • Dry throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Postnasal drip
  • Bitter taste in the mouth (indicates acid reflux)

Changes in the Vocal Cords Causes Hoarseness

The sounds that come out of your mouth are due to the vocal cords (also known as vocal folds), as well as the voice box (larynx). The larynx is located at the top of the windpipe airway that connects the lungs and the mouth.

Vocal cords consist of two muscle bands that are located inside the larynx. These muscles open and close while you are speaking, with air that moves from the lungs to vibrate the cords. These vibrations create sound waves that you can hear.

When the vocal cords are relaxed, they shorten and can cause a deeper sound. When the folds tighten, it increases the pitch of the sound. Hoarseness happens when the vocal cords are more relaxed or tighter than usual.

What Does a Raspy Voice Indicate?

A raspy, hoarse voice can happen for a variety of reasons. It might be a temporary condition because you overused the vocal cords.

Overusing your voice can cause temporary inflammation, affecting how the vocal cords produce sounds. Examples of vocal overuse include:

  • Singing at a concert
  • Talking too loud in a crowded restaurant
  • Shouting
  • Talking too long without taking a break
  • Speaking in an unnatural way (too high or too low)

Usually, temporary hoarseness will go away within a few days. If you notice that the symptoms remain for weeks or months, it could indicate another health issue that is causing changes to your voice.

What Disease Causes a Raspy Voice?

Common diseases that cause a raspy voice include:

  • Laryngitis: This condition can be either chronic or acute. Usually, it happens because of an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu. Laryngitis can also be triggered by singing, shouting, or speaking loudly.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): When stomach acid is coming up the trachea, it can reach the vocal cords and cause damage. Usually, this condition causes chronic inflammation and slow progression of hoarseness over time.
  • Neurological Conditions: Changes in the brain can affect the function of the larynx and throat muscles. Common neurological conditions that lead to vocal hoarseness include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, or spasmodic dysphonia.
  • Vocal Cysts, Nodes, and Polyps: Growths can occur on the vocal cords that affect the way the folds move. Sometimes these nodules occur in singers, causing too much friction or pressure. Typically, vocal polyps happen on one side of the vocal fold.
  • Vocal Cord Paralysis: If one or both of the vocal folds cannot open or close properly, it is known as vocal cord paralysis. The most common causes of vocal cord paralysis include thyroid or lung cancer or injury to the head, chest, or neck.
  • Vocal Hemorrhage: If a blood vessel on the vocal cord surface ruptures, it is known as a vocal fold hemorrhage. This condition can cause a sudden change in the voice.
  • Ear Infection: Can an ear infection cause a raspy voice? Yes, especially when the ear infection is occurring as a result of an upper respiratory condition. Sinus and ear congestion can result in a post-nasal drip that affects the breathing passages and larynx.

An experienced ENT can help you identify the underlying causes of your hoarseness. If you have any of these conditions, then it’s essential to talk to a specialist about treatment options to improve the sound of your voice.

Lifestyle Factors that Increase the Risk of Hoarseness

If you are experiencing hoarseness, then also consider lifestyle factors that could be contributing, such as:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to allergens and dust
  • Chemical exposure

Treatment Solutions for a Hoarse Voice

The best way to treat a hoarse voice is to identify the underlying cause. The treatment varies depending on the reason why your voice is changing.

Additionally, it’s important to consider whether the hoarseness is acute (short-term) or chronic.

For example, acute vocal overuse requires resting the voice and staying well-hydrated to support larynx recovery. With proper rest and at-home treatment, you can quickly overcome hoarseness issues after singing or talking too much.

Chronic conditions require ongoing treatments and specialized care. Immediate treatment is essential to avoid irreversible damage to the vocal cords.

Your doctor might recommend treatment options for the specific cause of your hoarseness:

  • Medication and dietary changes to manage GERD or acid reflux
  • Microsurgery to remove vocal nodules
  • Modifying how the voice is used
  • Medications to thin mucus

Additionally, your doctor will discuss solutions for preventing hoarseness. For example, you might work with a voice therapist, singing teacher, or speech-language pathologist to modify vocal behavior. Using a microphone might be an option to protect your voice.

When Should You See an ENT for Hoarseness?

If your symptoms last longer than two or three weeks, then it’s time to talk to an ear, nose, throat doctor for a diagnosis. Other signs that you need to see an ENT for hoarseness include:

  • You don’t have the flu or a cold
  • You can feel a lump in the neck
  • Coughing produces blood
  • Severe changes in the voice are sudden and unexplained
  • Vocal changes last more than a few days
  • You have pain when talking or swallowing
  • Breathing difficulty is also occurring

ENT: Consultation, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Hoarse Voice

When you have a hoarse or injured voice, an ENT can assist with diagnosis and treatment. You can find our ENT office close to home, in the Collin County or Dallas areas.

Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat offers quality services from industry experts. Our nearby offices are located in Frisco and Plano, TX. Find our online form to schedule an appointment, or call our office at (972) 596-4005.

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