Speaking should be effortless and easily reproducible; and like many things we have in abundance, we often take it for granted. It’s not until our natural vocal production is impaired that we appreciate how demanding and complex speech is. Hoarseness, or dysphonia, is a voice-related restriction such as a change in voice quality, pitch, volume or it takes effort to speak. It’s important to remember that hoarseness can be caused by a number of factors and is a symptom, not a disease.
Most changes in your voice are caused by harmless factors and usually resolve themselves without treatment, such as acute laryngitis. However, there are times when hoarseness is a symptom of a more serious and aggressive condition requiring prompt diagnosis and treatment.
How To Know If Hoarseness Is A Sign of Something Serious
There are many associated symptoms relating to one’s hoarseness that help distinguish whether voice changes are harmless and will go away or whether they are a sign of a bigger issue. Someone whose voice is hoarse after a viral upper respiratory tract infection is obviously less concerning then a long-time smoker who is also coughing up blood. The best recommendation for all who are hoarse is to seek medical attention. This can be done with an ear, nose and throat specialist or even with your primary care provider.
If you do not see an ear, nose and throat specialist first, then we recommend following a simple two-week rule: If your hoarseness persists beyond two weeks, then you should see an otolaryngologist to have an endoscopic evaluation of your larynx (a.k.a. “voice-box”). The most widely used method of examining the larynx and vocal folds is via an endoscope (this is very small, measuring less than 4mm in diameter). It is inserted through one nostril and guided through the nose to the back of the throat, until it lies just above the larynx. With the endoscope the doctor can examine the larynx during a variety of tasks - such as swallowing, speaking, and singing. This will help determine the cause of your voice disorder and an appropriate management plan.
Treatment plans vary widely based on the source of hoarseness. For most benign conditions, supportive measures are most effective, and often the only thing needed. These measures include partial or complete voice rest, air humidification, oral hydration, and most importantly, avoiding of extreme use of your voice like yelling. Other times, persistent hoarseness requires surgery for improvement.
At Advanced Specialty Care, all of our otolaryngologists are specially trained to treat simple and complex voice disorders, so please make an appointment today if your voice seems hoarse. Our ear, nose and throat specialists treat a variety of other ear, nose and throat problems, including snoring and sleep apnea, chronic sinusitis, ear infections, and tonsil and adenoids. Our Fairfield County, CT offices are located in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield and Southbury.
- Michael Drobbin, D.O.