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If you have hoarseness, or a change in your voice that lasts longer than three weeks, it is vital to see a physician who specializes in laryngology as quickly as possible. A laryngologist is a specially trained ear, nose and throat surgeon who can determine the cause of voice changes.

In some cases, hoarseness is a symptom of a serious health issue such as a benign or cancerous growth on the vocal cord. By visiting a physician right away, you are more likely to have a fast diagnosis and treatment to avoid the risks of additional health problems.

Hoarseness Causes

There are a number of different conditions that can contribute to hoarseness, including:

  • Laryngitis – Inflammation of the vocal cords that can be caused by upper respiratory infection, reflux, allergies, and overuse
  • Granuloma – A growth occurring on the back portion of the vocal folds
  • Vocal fold nodules – Non-cancerous growths, similar to calluses, that are found on the vocal fold
  • Vocal fold polyps – Small lesions filled with fluid that develop on vocal folds as a result of voice overuse
  • Vocal cord papilloma – Small, wart-like growths that develop as a result of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
  • Papillary thyroid carcinoma (a type of thyroid cancer)
  • Laryngeal cancer

Diagnosing the Severity of Hoarseness

Diagnosing hoarseness often involves a laryngoscopy (an examination of your throat, larynx, and vocal cords with a specialized scope) and stroboscopy (a method that utilizes a bright flashing light to illuminate the vocal cords for examination). These methods are the most effective way to evaluate for vocal fold disorders, and we have top state-of-the-art equipment for these tests at the UC Irvine Department of Otolaryngology.

Hoarseness Treatments

The best treatment for hoarseness depends on the reason for the condition. For example, your physician might suggest resting your voice and undergoing voice therapy in order to optimize the function of the vocal folds and help you learn to avoid behaviors that can lead to nodules. Your physician might also recommend:

  • Avoiding smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  • Increasing daily hydration to avoid having a dry throat
  • Avoiding allergens and secondhand smoke
  • Adding humidity to your home and work environment with a humidifier or vaporizer
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
  • Reducing stomach acid
  • Surgery to remove polyps or growths

Seeing your doctor at the first sign of lingering hoarseness is an important step in getting the care that is necessary to return to speaking normally and comfortably.