What causes hoarseness and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Hoarseness is a common symptom that affects both adults and children. It refers to a change in the voice, making it sound raspy, strained, or breathy. Hoarseness can be caused by various factors, including vocal cord issues, infections, and lifestyle habits. In this article, we will explore the causes of hoarseness, how to treat it, and ways to prevent it from occurring.

Hoarseness Symptoms

Hoarseness symptoms can vary from person to person, but some common signs to look out for include:

  • Raspy or rough voice
  • Difficulty speaking or singing
  • Vocal fatigue
  • Changes in pitch or volume
  • Throat discomfort or pain
  • Tickling sensation in the throat

If you experience any of these symptoms for an extended period, it is important to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Hoarseness Causes

Hoarseness can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Vocal Cord Issues

Problems with the vocal cords are a common cause of hoarseness. Conditions such as vocal cord nodules, polyps, or paralysis can affect the movement and vibration of the vocal cords, leading to changes in voice quality.


Respiratory infections, such as colds, flu, or laryngitis, can cause hoarseness. These infections can lead to inflammation and swelling of the vocal cords, resulting in voice changes.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause hoarseness. Stomach acid can irritate the throat and vocal cords, leading to voice changes.


Smoking is a significant risk factor for hoarseness. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can irritate the throat and vocal cords, causing inflammation and voice changes.

Overuse or Strain

Using the voice excessively or straining it can lead to hoarseness. This is common in individuals who speak or sing loudly for extended periods without proper vocal rest.

Hoarseness Treatment

The treatment for hoarseness depends on the underlying cause. Here are some common approaches:

Vocal Rest

If hoarseness is caused by overuse or strain, vocal rest is essential. This involves avoiding activities that strain the voice, such as speaking loudly or singing, and allowing the vocal cords to heal.


Staying hydrated is crucial for maintaining vocal cord health. Drinking plenty of water helps keep the vocal cords lubricated and reduces the risk of irritation.


If hoarseness is caused by an infection or inflammation, medications such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms and treat the underlying condition.

Voice Therapy

In cases where hoarseness is due to vocal cord issues or improper voice use, voice therapy may be recommended. This involves working with a speech-language pathologist to learn proper vocal techniques and exercises to improve voice quality.

Hoarseness Remedies

In addition to medical treatment, there are several remedies that can help relieve hoarseness symptoms:

Steam Inhalation

Inhaling steam from a bowl of hot water or using a humidifier can help soothe the vocal cords and reduce inflammation.

Throat Lozenges

Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candies can provide temporary relief by lubricating the throat and reducing irritation.

Warm Saltwater Gargles

Gargling with warm saltwater can help reduce inflammation and soothe the throat.

Avoiding Irritants

Avoiding irritants such as smoke, allergens, and excessive caffeine can help prevent further irritation of the vocal cords.

Hoarseness Prevention

While hoarseness may not always be preventable, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk:

Practice Good Vocal Hygiene

Avoid shouting, whispering, or speaking for extended periods without breaks. Use proper breathing techniques and maintain good posture while speaking or singing.

Avoid Smoking and Secondhand Smoke

Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke can significantly reduce the risk of hoarseness and other vocal cord issues.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep the vocal cords hydrated and prevent dryness.

Manage Acid Reflux

If you have acid reflux, follow a healthy diet, avoid trigger foods, and take medications as prescribed to manage the condition and reduce the risk of hoarseness.

Hoarseness Relief

While hoarseness can be frustrating, it is often temporary and can be relieved with proper care. However, if hoarseness persists for more than two weeks or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation.

Remember, taking care of your voice and seeking timely treatment can help prevent complications and ensure a healthy vocal system. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for hoarseness, you can take proactive steps to maintain a clear and strong voice.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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