Do you sometimes have a hard time speaking because your voice is hoarse? You’re not alone. Many people suffer from hoarseness at some point in their lives, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. In this blog post, we will discuss what hoarseness is, how it is diagnosed, and how an ENT doctor would treat it. We hope this information helps you better understand this common condition and know when to see a doctor.
What is hoarseness?
Hoarseness is a condition that causes your voice to sound weak, strained, or raspy. It can make it difficult to speak clearly, and in some cases, you may not be able to speak at all. Hoarseness can be caused by many things, including:
- Infections such as laryngitis or bronchitis
- Allergies or asthma
- Excessive alcohol use
- Singing or speaking for long periods of time without taking a break
- Voice abuse, such as yelling or screaming
- Stress or anxiety
- Medical conditions such as GERD, thyroid disease, or cancer
In most cases, hoarseness is not a serious condition and will go away on its own. However, there are some instances when hoarseness can be a sign of a more serious problem. If you have hoarseness that lasts for more than two weeks, it is recommended to see an ENT doctor.
How do ENTs diagnose the cause of hoarseness?
If you have been experiencing hoarseness for an extended period of time and have decided to see an ENT doctor, you are probably wondering what to expect. The first step in diagnosing the cause of your hoarseness is a thorough history and physical examination of your head and neck. The doctor will ask about your symptoms, when they started, and what makes them worse or better. They will also listen to your voice and look for any other signs of illness. If necessary, the doctor may order additional tests such as:
A laryngoscopy is a medical procedure that uses a small, flexible camera to look at your larynx (voice box). This test can help the doctor determine if the cause of your hoarseness is due to inflammation, tumors, or abnormal vocal cord movement.
A videostroboscopy is a medical test that uses a camera to take pictures of your larynx (voice box) while you are singing or speaking. Since the vocal cords vibrate faster than the human retinae can see, a videostroboscopy allows the doctor to determine the cause of your hoarseness via an in depth analysis of the movement of the vocal cords to detect any abnormalities.
A throat culture is a medical test that is used to determine the cause of hoarseness. It involves using a sterile cotton swab to collect a sample of cells from your throat so that they can be examined in a lab. This test can help the doctor determine if you have an infection or other illness that is causing your hoarseness.
In cases that something suspicious is seen during a laryngoscopy, additional imaging using a CT scan and/or MRI may be recommended to obtain more visual information.
How is hoarseness treated by an ENT?
There are a number of different treatments available for hoarseness, depending on the underlying cause. In most cases, however, treatment involves addressing the inflammation or infection that is causing the problem. This may include taking antibiotics if you have an infection, using steroids to reduce inflammation, or taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking may also help improve your hoarseness. In cases where hoarseness is caused by a medical condition, such as GERD, thyroid disease, or cancer, treatment will vary depending on the individual condition.
If the cause of your hoarseness is due to voice abuse, stress, or anxiety, therapy may be recommended to help address these issues. Voice therapy can help you change vocal behaviors to reduce the amount of stress exerted on the vocal folds when speaking. Oftentimes, vocal hygiene instructions can also be a large part of resolving hoarseness due to voice stress. Vocal Hygiene instructions include:
- drinking plenty of fluids(8-10 oz. daily), especially water
- avoiding caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol
- resting your voice as much as possible
- avoiding whispering or shouting
- using water instead of clearing your throat
- avoiding antihistamines or decongestants
Vocal cord injections may also be recommended in certain cases. For example, your ENT may recommend Botox injections to treat spasmodic dysphonia, a condition that causes the vocal cords to close involuntarily. Vocal cord injections of calcium or hyaluronic acid-based materials to treat vocal cord paralysis or thinning of the vocal cords associated with aging may also be suggested. In some cases, surgery may also be necessary to remove a tumor or correct structural problems such as vocal nodules, vocal polyps, vocal cysts, or vocal cord scarring.
While hoarseness is not a serious condition and will likely go away on its own, it is important to seek treatment if you have been experiencing prolonged hoarseness. An ENT doctor can help diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your hoarseness, which will help improve your quality of life. We hope this information was helpful and provides a better understanding of hoarseness. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact your Anne Arundel ENT doctor.