What causes hoarseness?

Jennifer L. Long, MD
Hoarseness, or a change in your normal voice quality, can occur for a number of reasons. Many of us have experienced the temporary laryngitis that can occur after a cold. However, if a voice change persists for more than a few days, it should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist. Other causes of a hoarse voice include acid reflux, benign lesions or lumps of the vocal cord or neurologic problems.

Many people become concerned about laryngeal cancer if their voice changes. That is certainly a concern but is actually less common than the noncancerous causes. The only way to know the cause is to have an otolaryngologist examine your vocal cords during a simple office visit. A doctor who specializes in the voice will have additional equipment and expertise to further diagnose and treat a hoarse voice.
Screaming or singing loudly can make your voice hoarse. Watch as Dr. Oz talks with Dr. Steven Zeitels in this video about ways to protect your vocal cords.

2 020 03-1 vocal cords

Hoarseness usually goes away on its own and is rarely a sign of a more serious condition. Causes include:

  • Allergies
  • Infections
  • Vocal cord nodules often form misuse of the voice
  • Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, which are warty growths in the voice box
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux

Continue Learning about Throat Disorders

Throat Disorders

Throat Disorders

Disorders of the throat may be caused by inflammation, infection, or growths such as polyps, ulcers or even cancerous tumors. Throat problems are very common, especially in young children. A sore throat is usually minor and may go ...

away on its own. However, some sore throats can be caused by a streptococcus (usually called just strep) bacteria and may require an antibiotic. If you see white patches on the back of your throat, you should suspect strep throat and see your doctor. If you have a lump or sore that doesn't go away, trouble swallowing or hoarseness and especially if you smoke and drink alcohol, you may be at risk for throat or mouth cancers. If found early these kinds of cancers are often curable. See your doctor to get the right diagnosis.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.