A change in voice or hoarseness should never be brushed off as a minor problem, as so many conditions can cause a change in voice, starting from the common cold to cancer. Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords, which are part of your voice box (larynx) in the throat. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness. The most common cause of hoarseness is a cold or sinus infection, which usually goes away on its own within 2 weeks.

Other causes of hoarseness that do not go away in a few weeks need further evaluation for diagnosis. In rare cases, cancer of the voice box or larynx is a dangerous cause for change in voice.

Causes of hoarseness

  • Infection of larynx – bacterial or viral
  • Voice misuse- shouting or screaming
  • Smoking
  • Thyroid problems
  • Acid reflux
  • Problems in the vocal cords – nodules, cyst and polyps
  • Cancer of the larynx
  • Neurological

Hoarseness is not a disease, it is a symptom which needs further evaluation if it persists longer than three weeks, especially if you are a smoker and:

  • If you do not have a cold or flu
  • If you are coughing up blood
  • If you have difficulty swallowing
  • If you feel a swelling in the neck
  • If you experience pain when speaking or swallowing
  • If difficulty in breathing accompanies your voice change
  • If you are a vocal performer and unable to perform

Detailed evaluation is needed to find out the cause for hoarseness and treatment is according to the cause.

So, if a change in voice persists for more than 3 weeks one must seek medical evaluation

Some tips to maintain good vocal hygiene are:

  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid spicy foods
  • Avoid shouting and screaming and use moderate comfortable level of speaking
  • Use a microphone if possible in situations where you need to project your voice
  • Seek professional voice training
  • Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is injured or hoarse

Dr. Pradeep Divakaran
(ENT Specialist)
Bahrain Specialist Hospital Clinics, West Riffa