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Hoarseness

Voice strain; Dysphonia; Loss of voice

Hoarseness refers to a difficulty making sounds when trying to speak. Vocal sounds may be weak, breathy, scratchy, or husky, and the pitch or quality of the voice may change.

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Throat anatomy

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Considerations

Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords. The vocal cords are part of your voice box (larynx) located 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 most often goes away on its own within 2 weeks.

A rare but serious cause of hoarseness that does not go away in a few weeks is cancer of the voice box.

Causes

Hoarseness may be caused by:

Less common causes include:

Home Care

Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Rest and time may improve hoarseness. Hoarseness that continues for weeks or months should be checked by a health care provider.

Things you can do at home to help relieve the problem include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will examine your throat, neck, and mouth and ask you some questions about your symptoms and medical history. These may include:

You may have one or more of the following tests:

References

Choi SS, Zalzal GH. Voice disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 203.

Flint PW. Throat disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 429.

Stachler RJ, Francis DO, Schwartz SR, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Hoarseness (Dysphonia) (Update). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018;158(1_suppl):S1-S42. PMID: 29494321 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29494321.

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Review Date: 11/4/2018  

Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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