Medical Q&As

Hoarse - why?

I have recently experienced hoarseness for no apparent reason. People notice it particularly when I speak to them on the phone. I gave up smoking cigars 9 months ago and do not smoke at all now. Why am I hoarse?

Hoarseness is a general term that refers to abnormal changes in the voice. Speech is produced by vibrations in the vocal chords, which are located in the larynx or voice box. If the vocal chords are swollen or have nodules on them then the voice can be distorted. There are many causes for this. The most common cause is infection, giving rise to the common condition we recognise as laryngitis. Excessive use of the voice such as shouting at a football match can also cause hoarseness. Prolonged hoarseness is usually due to overuse of the voice over an extended period of time. This commonly occurs in singers and the underlying problem is that nodules or callouses develop on the vocal chords giving a raspy sound to the voice. Sometimes hoarseness can happen as a result of acid reflux from the stomach. In this scenario gastric acid can flow back up the gullet during sleep and result in irritation of the vocal chords. It is worth noting that such people may not be affected by heartburn, which is one of the commonest symptoms of reflux. Finally, smoking is also a major cause of hoarseness. If the hoarseness persists for a couple of weeks, even though you might be feeling well, you should visit your GP for assessment.