What causes hoarseness and how to treat it?

Symptom Database

Hoarseness is a common condition that affects the voice, causing changes in vocal quality and making it sound rough or raspy. It is often a symptom of underlying vocal cord problems or voice disorders. Understanding the causes of hoarseness and knowing how to treat it can help individuals regain their vocal health and address any voice issues they may be experiencing.

What Causes Hoarseness?

Hoarseness can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Vocal cord nodules or polyps: These are noncancerous growths on the vocal cords that can result from vocal strain or misuse.
  • Vocal cord paralysis: When one or both vocal cords are unable to move properly, it can lead to hoarseness.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Acid reflux can irritate the vocal cords, causing hoarseness.
  • Respiratory infections: Infections such as colds or bronchitis can inflame the vocal cords and affect voice quality.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke can irritate the vocal cords and contribute to hoarseness.
  • Excessive voice use or misuse: Yelling, screaming, or speaking loudly for extended periods can strain the vocal cords and lead to hoarseness.

How to Treat Hoarseness?

When experiencing hoarseness, it is important to take steps to treat the underlying cause and promote vocal health. Here are some effective strategies:

Rest Your Voice

One of the best ways to treat hoarseness is to give your voice a break. Avoid speaking or singing loudly, and try to limit your vocal use as much as possible. Resting your voice allows the vocal cords to heal and recover.

Stay Hydrated

Keeping your body hydrated is essential for maintaining vocal health. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to ensure that your vocal cords stay lubricated. Avoid excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption, as they can dehydrate the body and worsen hoarseness.

Avoid Irritants

Avoid exposure to irritants that can further irritate the vocal cords. This includes smoking, secondhand smoke, and environmental pollutants. If you have allergies, try to minimize exposure to allergens that can trigger hoarseness.

Practice Good Vocal Hygiene

Practicing good vocal hygiene can help prevent hoarseness and maintain vocal health. Some tips for maintaining good vocal hygiene include:

  • Avoid throat clearing or coughing excessively, as it can strain the vocal cords.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and prevent dryness in the throat.
  • Avoid whispering, as it puts strain on the vocal cords.
  • Use proper breathing techniques to support your voice.
  • Warm up your voice before extended vocal use, such as singing or public speaking.

Seek Medical Evaluation

If hoarseness persists for more than two weeks or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is important to seek medical evaluation. A healthcare professional, such as an otolaryngologist or a speech-language pathologist, can assess your vocal health and determine the underlying cause of hoarseness.

Treatment Options

The treatment for hoarseness depends on the underlying cause. Some common treatment options include:

  • Voice therapy: This involves working with a speech-language pathologist to improve vocal technique and reduce strain on the vocal cords.
  • Medications: In cases where hoarseness is caused by acid reflux or respiratory infections, medications may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms and promote healing.
  • Surgery: In certain cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove vocal cord nodules or polyps or to correct vocal cord paralysis.

It is important to follow the recommended treatment plan and make any necessary lifestyle changes to prevent hoarseness from recurring.


Hoarseness can be a frustrating condition that affects one’s ability to communicate effectively. By understanding the causes of hoarseness and implementing appropriate treatment strategies, individuals can regain their vocal health and prevent further voice problems. Remember to rest your voice, stay hydrated, avoid irritants, practice good vocal hygiene, and seek medical evaluation if hoarseness persists. With proper care and treatment, hoarseness can be effectively managed, allowing individuals to maintain a clear and healthy voice.

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