Read below about hoarse voice, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your hoarse voice from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Dry voice

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Hoarse Voice Symptoms

Most people have experienced being stuck in in bed, with a congested, runny nose, and dry, persistent cough. Often the symptoms only get worse to include a voice so hoarse it is barely recognizable. Sometimes a hoarse voice can be the result of a bad cold, or even a particularly raucous sports game.

Hoarse voice symptoms can also be accompanied by:

  • Sore, dry or scratchy throat [1]
  • Altered voice quality, pitch or volume [2]
  • Cough [4]
  • Runny nose

However, a hoarse voice can also be a sign of more serious, underlying problems. It is important to follow-up on hoarseness and other associated symptoms in order to get appropriate care.

Hoarse Voice Causes Overview

Hoarseness is the result of inflammation or irritation to your voice box or larynx. Inflammation of the larynx is laryngitis [1, 5, 6, 7]. Inside the larynx are the vocal cords that normally open and close smoothly to help produce the sound of your voice. When you have laryngitis, your vocal cords become so swollen they cannot open and close properly, causing your voice to sound hoarse.

Laryngitis can be caused by a variety of conditions. Depending on the cause, laryngitis can be temporary (acute) or long-lasting (chronic)[7].

Inflammatory hoarse voice causes:

  • Infections: Viral upper respiratory infections can cause inflammation and irritation of the vocal cords and larynx that leads to hoarseness that usually improves once the infection subsides. Bacterial and fungal infections can also cause acute laryngitis [7].
  • Allergies: Those seasonal allergies that cause runny nose and itchy eyes can also result in hoarseness.

Environmental hoarse voice causes:

  • Irritants: Alcohol and smoking can directly irritate the vocal cords and larynx [2]. Overuse of these substances can lead to chronic laryngitis and sometimes cause cancers that further contribute to hoarseness. Acid reflux, also known as GERD, causes direct irritation to the larynx that can become chronic [16].
  • Overuse: Speaking too much, too loudly and even prolonged singing (watch out for those nights of karaoke) can all cause hoarseness [1, 2, 6, 7].
  • Iatrogenic (Medical related hoarse voice causes): Medications, such as inhaled corticosteroids for asthma, can cause either acute or chronic laryngitis due to its direct contact with the larynx [8]. Also, in situations requiring intubation (a tube placed in your larynx to assist with breathing) during surgery can cause injury and irritation of the larynx.

Neuromuscular hoarse voice causes:

  • Any medical condition that can cause paralysis or tension of the vocal cords can result in chronic laryngitis [8]. Some of these conditions include nerve injury or multiple sclerosis [1].

Malignant hoarse voice causes:

  • Some throat cancers can cause hoarseness. Alcohol and smoking increases the risk of throat cancer [9, 10].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Hoarse Voice

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced hoarse voice. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    With proper treatment, symptoms may be relieved within days & at most several weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, pain below the ribs, cough with dry or watery sputum, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Viral Infection of the Larynx (Voice Box)

    Acute laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box (larynx) due to infection.The vocal cords are located inside the larynx. Normally, the vocal cords open and close freely, but in laryngitis, they become inflamed. This swelling causes distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them, making one's resulting voice sound hoarse.

    Less than 3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, runny nose, fever, dry cough, hoarse voice
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Lung Cancer (Non - Small Cell)

    Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, which usually grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer. People with NSCLC have tumors in their lungs and may suffer from cough, chest pain, spitting up blood, and difficulty breathing.

    Non-small cell lung cancer is a serious disease, and to assess prognosis a consultation with an oncologist is needed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cardinal symptoms of lung cancer like chest pain or changes in breathing, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Vocal Cord Overuse

    When yelling or speaking loudly, the vocal chords may become overused, causing one's voice to become hoarse. This is called mechanical laryngitis, in other words the inflammation of the voice box.

    Usually a couple of days or less

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that never occur with vocal cord overuse:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Post - Infectious Cough

    Post-infectious upper airway cough is a condition that can develop as a direct result of a previous infection of the airways. In adults, this is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) cough.

    2 weeks with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, congestion, clear runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  8. 8.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Obstructive Sleep Apnea

    Sleep apnea is a disorder in which the upper airway is obstructed during sleep, which causes poor sleep quality and frequent awakening.

    Sleep apnea is a lifelong condition but symptoms can be well managed with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, daytime sleepiness, trouble sleeping, sore throat
    Symptoms that always occur with obstructive sleep apnea:
    snoring or apneas
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Hoarse Voice Treatments and Relief

Most of the time, hoarseness and laryngitis resolve on their own and there are many things you can do at home to help alleviate your hoarse voice symptoms.

  • Rest your voice: Avoid talking and shouting. Try not to whisper or clear your throat, as this actually causes more swelling and strain to your vocal cords [2].
  • Drink fluids: Fluids moisten your throat and make it easier to clear things like food with less irritation [6].
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking: All of these can dry and irritate your larynx. Moreover, caffeine, alcohol and other caffeinated beverages can dehydrate your body and exacerbate your hoarseness because it strips your throat of its mucous [11].
  • Avoid spicy foods: If you have GERD, spicy foods can exacerbate your reflux and cause irritation of your larynx and vocal cords.
  • Use a humidifier: This adds moisture to the air and can help open your airway and make breathing easier.
  • Eliminate allergens from your environment: Allergies can not only cause but also exacerbate your hoarseness.
  • Prevent upper respiratory infections: Wash your hands often, shoulder your sneezes and if possible avoid contact with others who have upper respiratory infections.

See your doctor if these home remedies do not improve the duration or severity of your hoarseness. Your doctor will be able to determine the cause and provide the proper treatment.

However, seek medical attention immediately for hoarse voice symptoms if you also have:

FAQs About Hoarse Voice

Here are some frequently asked questions about hoarse voice.

Can thyroid problems cause hoarseness?

Yes, hypothyroidism can cause a deepening of the voice [12]. This deepening is often noticed and more common in middle-aged women. A thyroid nodule [1] or thyroid cancer [13] can interrupt the nerve that supplies one of an individual's two vocal cords, causing paralysis and hoarseness. Finally, surgery on the neck can cause paralysis and hoarseness.

What does is sound like when your voice is hoarse?

Hoarseness refers to a change in the characteristics of an individual's voice [1, 2]. It can apply to a variety of changes in the voice, including weakness or inability to produce significant volume, fatigability or losing one's voice quickly, a shaky or altered pitch, a warbling or tremulous tone, or a strained voice quality.

Why is my voice hoarse but my throat doesn't hurt?

A hoarse voice without a sore throat can occur when a non-inflammatory condition has caused loss of vocal cord function [1, 7]. This can be caused by overuse like yelling or speaking in an abnormal tone for long periods of time. A vocal cord polyp or nodule which can develop from overuse (e.g. speakers, singers), and can also cause hoarseness. Additionally, surgery, cancer, or neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease can also cause hoarseness without pain albeit much less frequently than the above causes.

Can allergies cause my voice to be hoarse?

Yes. Allergies can cause voice hoarseness [7]. Over time, mucus from an allergic reaction to pollen and dust in the air can cause a buildup of mucus [14]. This mucus may cause a runny nose or post nasal drip in which it drips onto the back of the throat, causing irritation and inflammation. Over time, this can cause a sore throat and a hoarse voice.

Why is my voice constantly hoarse?

Chronic hoarse voice may be caused by chronic laryngitis - defined as a hoarse voice and sore throat that lasts longer than three weeks [7]. Chronic laryngitis can be caused by inhalation of chemical fumes (e.g. industrial fumes, cigarette smoke), gastroesophageal reflux or (GERD) causing some stomach acid to affect the vocal cords, chronic alcohol use, or post nasal drip from allergies [1, 14, 15].

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hoarse Voice

  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Do you have a sore throat?
  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our hoarse voice symptom checker to find out more.

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Hoarse Voice Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced hoarse voice have also experienced:

    • 11% Cough
    • 10% Sore Throat
    • 5% Dry Cough
  • People who have experienced hoarse voice had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Less Than a Week
    • 23% Less Than a Day
    • 19% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced hoarse voice were most often matched with:

    • 60% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
    • 20% Viral Infection of the Larynx (Voice Box)
    • 20% Viral Throat Infection
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Hoarseness. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Updated March 6, 2017. NIDCD Link.
  2. Ho T. Hoarseness. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published October 30, 2016. MedlinePlus Link.
  3. Tesini BL. Infections. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated June 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  4. Voice Disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 17, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  5. Laryngitis. NCBI. NCBI Link.
  6. Vorvick LJ. Laryngitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published December 10, 2016. MedlinePlus Link.
  7. Sasaki CT. Laryngitis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated May 2018. Merck Manual Consumer Version.
  8. Reiter R, Hoffmann TK, Pickhard A, Brosch S. Hoarseness - Causes and Treatments. Deutsches Arzteblatt International. 2015;112(19):329-337. NCBI Link.
  9. Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  10. Schiff BA. Laryngeal Cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version. Published April 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version.
  11. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine.
  12. Wisse B. Hypothyroidism. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Published June 14, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  13. The American Cancer Society Medical and Editorial Content Team. What is Thyroid Cancer? American Cancer Society. Updated April 15, 2016. American Cancer Society.
  14. Shmerling RH. Treatments for Post-Nasal Drip. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published April 2018. Harvard Health Publishing.
  15. Post-Nasal Drip. healthdirect. Updated March 2018. healthdirect Link.