Winter coughs, colds, flu and COVID-19 can all result in a sore throat and subsequent changes to the way you speak. Even after the other symptoms have cleared, your voice can be strained or husky, and it can take a while for it to return to its normal tone.
Cases of laryngitis, (an inflammation of the voice box) a common infection in the throat, can linger and become chronic too, resulting in difficulty speaking clearly. Even puberty and acid reflux can create hoarseness. Smoking exacerbates most problems with the voice box.
Temporarily over-using your full vocal range, such as shouting loudly at a sports event or concert, can also put a strain on your vocal system, leaving you with a gravelly or guttural tone, or even struggling to speak at all! There are also some general medical conditions that can affect your voice.
Read on to understand when you should be concerned about voice hoarseness and when to seek medical advice from a specialist.
What to consider with a hoarse voice
The advice is usually to wait three or four weeks, and if your hoarse voice shows no signs of returning to normal, consult a doctor especially if there is no obvious cause, it’s getting worse, or it comes and goes.
This timeframe should be shortened, however, if your hoarseness is accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, ear pain on just one side or a neck lump. If your voice problem is impeding your ability to breathe properly, you must seek urgent help.
You also need to ask for immediate advice if you are experiencing:
- Blood when you cough
- Swallowing difficulties
- unexplained ear pain
- An inability to speak at all
- Severe discomfort or pain when you try to speak
- Neck lumps
Why see a doctor?
Battling on for several weeks with a hoarse voice is not a wise decision! Though the cause may be simple, and something a doctor can help you with using medication, therapy and rest, you could be showing the initial symptoms of throat cancer even though throat cancer is generally uncommon. Alerting a health professional to this will greatly improve your potential to benefit from swift and successful treatment.
The way doctors diagnose voice hoarseness issues is often straightforward. There will be a physical exam of your throat, and you will be asked about lifestyle habits like smoking and what you do in your job. Blood tests aren’t usually helpful and often the initial assessment provides reassurance that your hoarse voice is a result of a simple to treat inflammation or irritation.