For most Americans, hoarseness is merely an inconvenience. It often starts as a scratchy throat that gradually transforms your voice into a raspy hoarseness – which is also called dysphonia. It affects nearly one-third of the population, according to information from the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

It occurs when there are problems affecting your vocal cords or folds of your voice box (also called the larynx.) While it is often caused by colds, allergies, or reflux, chronic hoarseness can indicate a more serious health problem.what causes hoarseness

How does your voice box (larynx) work?

Your larynx produces sound like this: First, air is pushed out the vocal cords. Then, passing air causes these cords to vibrate, which in turn produces sound and speech, according to the Mayo Clinic. An irritated throat or vocal cords interfere with this process.

What causes hoarseness?

It’s important to remember that hoarseness itself is not a disease but the symptom of a disease. Effectively treating  symptoms won’t resolve the underlying cause. This is why it’s so important to see your local ear, nose and throat physician—such as those at Raleigh Capitol ENT—who will be able to get at the heart of the matter and create an effective treatment plan.

There are several possible causes of hoarseness, the most common of which is a cold or upper respiratory infection. Other causes include:

  • Heartburn
  • Laryngitis, the inflammation of the vocal cords
  • Voice overuse
  • Inflammation from allergies
  • Side effects of medication
  • Vocal cord spasms
  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Intubation – this is the process of passing a tube through the mouth in order to assist breathing

Hoarseness is more common in those who use their voice in their everyday careers, such as call-center operators, singers, coaches and teachers.  It’s also seen a lot in those over 65 or boys between the ages of 8 and 14, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology.

While many cases of hoarseness are mild, it can be associated with serious diseases such as:

  • Head and neck cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancer of the larynx
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease

How long should hoarseness last?

If your hoarseness is related to an allergy, cold or upper respiratory infection, it should go away within seven to 10 days. However, if it does not get better within two weeks, you should schedule an appointment with your ENT, as this could be a sign of a more complex problem. Other indictors of a more serious disorder are:

Effective remedies for hoarseness

Sometimes, treating hoarseness is simple. Five effective remedies include:

  1. Resting your voice

  2. Humidifying your home

  3. Drinking plenty of water, particularly if you live in a dry area

  4. Avoiding excessive coughing and throat clearing

  5. Voice therapy to modify how the voice is used, and this may be especially helpful to those who use their voice extensively in their daily careers

However, depending upon the underlying cause, surgery might be necessary, particularly if you have a mass in your neck, in which case, our doctor may order an MRI, CT scan or a biopsy

Can you prevent hoarseness?

There are a few steps you can take to help prevent hoarseness. These include:

  • Avoiding spicy food
  • Avoiding any type of tobacco product
  • Stopping smoking or eliminate your exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Avoiding dehydrating beverages, such as beer, wine and caffeinated drinks.
  • Avoiding overusing your voice
  • Seeking allergy treatment to help you avoid seasonal sinus infections

Only an ENT can determine the exact cause of your hoarseness

There are so many potential causes of hoarseness. While most are benign, some can carry life-threatening consequences if left undiagnosed. Our ear, nose and throat physicians have the extensive experience that enables us to accurately pinpoint the cause of your problems and offer customized solutions to help you.

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.



American Academy of Otolaryngology.  “Hoarseness (Dysphonia).” Online.

Mayo Clinic. “Hoarseness Can Be More Than a Temporary Nuisance.” Online.