Hoarseness is an abnormal change in the voice,
the sound produced by humans. It pertains to difficulty making sounds when trying to speak leading to a raspy/ scratchy/ husky sounding voice. In other cases, the voice sounds weak, breathy or there is a change in pitch or quality of the voice. Hoarseness is attributed to vocal cord problems. The vocal cords are found in the larynx, also called the voice box, located in the throat.
To understand the hoarseness, it is helpful to learn how voice is produced. Every person’s vocal cords open when they respire. The vocal cords come together to make a phonate, also known as voice, while simultaneously exhaling. The flow of air during expiration and the coming together of the vocal cords are required to work together. When air is pushed past the vocal folds with sufficient pressure, the vocal folds vibrate, creating the sounds. Voice is unique for every person, wherein no two persons have the same voice, similar to a fingerprint.
Causes of Hoarseness
The inflammation, irritation, infection or injury of the throat can lead to hoarseness. The following can lead to hoarseness of voice:
- Acute laryngitis – vocal cord inflammation (most common cause)
- Colds or other upper respiratory infections – typically viral (common)
- Sinus infection (common)
- Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux)
- Inhaling irritants
- Heavy smoking or drinking
- Chronic coughing
- Vocal cord polyps or cysts
- Cancer of the larynx, throat, thyroid or even lung
- Presence of foreign object in the oesophagus or the trachea
- Swallowing a toxic chemical
- Nerve or muscle damage around the larynx
- Overuse, abuse or misuse of the voice, such as in singing or shouting
First Aid Management for Hoarseness
Most cases of hoarseness can be managed at home. Acute hoarseness (short-term) can generally be treated at home with enough rest and time, and will usually disappear within two weeks of onset without complications. In cases of chronic hoarseness (long-term), medical treatment may be necessary. The following are generally recommended for cases of acute hoarseness:
- Avoid speaking too much or any activity that may strain the vocal cords. Speak only when necessary until hoarseness disappears.
- Drink plenty of fluids to retain moisture in the airways.
- A vaporizer may be used, especially at night.
- If hoarseness is due to acid reflux, take antacids and treat appropriately.
- Do not use decongestants.
- Avoid smoking and drinking until hoarseness goes away. Or if possible, stop altogether.
Prevention of Hoarseness
Although the following do not guarantee complete prevention of hoarseness, they are known to significantly reduce chances of hoarseness:
- If one smokes or drinks or does these activities together, stop or at least cut down. Exposure to second-hand smoke may also lead to hoarseness.
- Avoid dehydrating agents such as caffeine and alcohol. Stay hydrated at all times.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Avoid using voice too loudly or for a prolonged period of time.
Hoarseness is not typically considered a call for alarm. It can be effectively managed at home with sufficient home care. To learn how to treat, manage and prevent every day medical scenarios, enrol in First Aid Courses with workplace approved Training.
Jensen, Katrina M.(2013). Understanding How Voice is Produced. Texas Health Care. Retrieved September 17, 2013, from http://www.practicalslpinfo.com/understanding-how-a-voice-is-produced.html