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How to Treat Hoarseness

By: Josie Alston, MA, CCC-SLP

hoarse.pngHave you ever noticed that as your body has changed through the years, so has the sound of your voice? Perhaps others frequently ask you to speak up because your voice is too quiet, or your soprano voice is suddenly sounding more like an alto. Whatever the reason for your voice changes, hoarseness in the voice can often be the very first sign that your vocal folds require a little more TLC than just some honey and tea.

The UMMC Voice and Swallowing Center sees over 50 patients a week with numerous voice, swallowing, and airway complaints. This number is not surprising when many studies show that after the age of 60, almost half of all adults have experienced some degree of voice, swallowing, or airway problems.

Many older adults tend to become more concerned with chronic vocal hoarseness and think it could be a sign of throat cancer. Indeed, hoarseness is sometimes the initial symptom that leads to a diagnosis of throat cancer for people with have a history of smoking and drinking. However, most often it is simply a factor of aging which is called Presbylaryngis or “aging” of the throat.

Other common causes of your hoarse vocal quality could include:

  • seasonal allergies
  • acid reflux disease
  • usage of drying medications
  • stress/anxiety/tension
  • inhaler induced yeast infection
  • paralyzed vocal fold
  • overuse or misuse of the voice
  • smoking-related changes
  • neurological diseases like Parkinson's Disease or vocal tremor
  • benign lesions of the vocal folds: polyps, cysts & nodules

There is a myriad of reasons for one's hoarseness lasting longer than two weeks. The only way to know for sure is to get checked out by a laryngologist and have them look at the vocal folds directly.

There are a few tips you can try to see if they can quickly improve how you sound when speaking or singing such as staying hydrated and avoiding stress.

Drinking water is one of the best things for your voice because when you are dehydrated you almost always sound hoarse. Also, being dehydrated will cause you to have thicker phlegm and to clear your throat often. This can create excessive friction and trauma to the vocal folds. Clear, thin mucus is desirable in the throat in order to properly lubricate the vocal folds while they vibrate during speech or singing.

 If you feel you are getting enough fluids, you may need to exam the source. The caffeine found in coffee, sodas and teas can cause the very dehydration you are trying to prevent.

Another culprit of dehydration could be related to the medications you may be taking. Lasix, pain killers, nerve and bladder related medications are some of the more drying medications that can have a direct impact on the sound of your voice. Your primary care doctor can evaluate the medications you are taking to identify potential culprits and offer alternative medications that may give you the same benefit with less side effects of dryness and hoarseness.

If you think stress and anxiety could be a factor in your daily life then this too could be adding to your excessive hoarseness. Massaging your throat muscles several times a day for a few minutes and doing some easy airflow exercises with your voice can have an immediate impact on improving your voice quality.

Try taking a small sip of water and gargling it while saying “ahh” at the same time. Another helpful exercises is to slightly pinch your cheeks together and blow air through your lips (like if making the sound a horse makes) while also saying “ooo”. Repeating this exercises 15-20 times in a row can also help decrease muscle tension and improve the sound of your voice.

Don’t forget to get plenty of sleep, address your allergies and eat a reflux friendly diet. A little personal TLC and some laryngeal massage and airflow could make all the difference in how you sound!

If you are suffering from prolonged hoarseness, or would like to schedule an appointment, contact UMMC Ear, Nose and Throat at 601-984-5160.