Dear Doc | Worried about recurring hoarseness
Q Dear Doc, I keep having hoarseness. I have tried many things and it will get better for a while, but return. I am concerned it may be something serious, like cancer. Is there any way to tell? I keep looking at it and not sure if it looks normal. What can I do?
A You could be suffering from laryngitis.
Laryngitis is the medical term for when your vocal cords are inflamed. It usually causes your voice to sound hoarse or it can even make you lose your voice completely.
Laryngitis can be caused by:
- The common cold and other infections.
- Shouting or straining your voice too much.
- Breathing in harsh chemicals.
- Drinking too much alcohol or smoking a lot.
- Acid reflux, which is commonly called heartburn.
Other medical problems besides laryngitis that can make your voice hoarse or make you lose your voice include:
- Abnormal growths on the vocal cords.
- Muscle disorders affecting the voice box.
- Cancer of the throat.
There are different things you can do, depending on what caused your laryngitis.
- If your laryngitis happened because you strained your voice too much, give your voice a rest.
- If your laryngitis was caused by smoking or drinking, limit how much you drink, and consider quitting smoking completely.
- If your laryngitis was caused by breathing in a harsh chemical, avoid the particular chemical. If that is not possible, make sure the environment you are using is well ventilated and that there is a lot of fresh air coming in when you are dealing with the chemical fumes. If you work near chemical fumes that are making you hoarse, speak with your employer about getting masks or ventilation fans.
- If your laryngitis was caused by acid reflux, take steps to avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. Take medicines for acid reflux; eat many small meals each day, rather than two or three big meals, do not lie down for at least three hours after finishing a meal.
Most people with laryngitis get better on their own within two to three weeks. If your voice is hoarse or gone for two weeks or longer, and you do not seem to be getting better, see a doctor.
Let your doctor know if you have a sore throat or a fever, and if your throat pain is severe or does not start to improve within five to seven days.
Seek emergency medical care if you:
- Have trouble breathing.
- You are drooling because you cannot swallow your saliva.
- Have swelling of the neck or tongue.
- Cannot move your neck or have trouble opening your mouth.
If your doctor or nurse is not sure what is causing your symptoms, you might need some tests, one of which is called a laryngoscopy, which is when the doctor puts a tube with a tiny camera down your throat to look at your voice box.
Your treatment will depend on what is causing your laryngitis. If your laryngitis is caused by a cold or other minor infection, you might not need treatment. If you do not get better in two weeks, there might be something else causing your hoarseness, and those other causes of laryngitis are treated on a case-by-case basis.