Nearly everyone has experienced or will experience hoarseness in their life, whether the result of a cold or too much cheering at a sports event. Usually, the problem goes away after several days with self-care and by resting your voice. However, hoarseness can become more than a temporary annoyance. if you experience persistent hoarseness that hasn’t gotten better after two weeks, you should see an ENT provider.
Causes of persistent hoarseness can include:
Repeated irritation of your vocal cords. Sources of irritation include smoking, repeated voice overuse, allergies, inhalers used to treat asthma, frequent heartburn, excessive alcohol use, or chronic coughing. Ongoing irritation can cause sores on the vocal cord (contact ulcers), small vocal cord swellings (polyps) or callus-like patches (nodules) on the vocal cords. Treatment often begins by addressing the likely source of irritation.
Aging of tissues. Vocal cords can lose some tension and fullness with aging. Depending on the degree to which this impairs your ability to talk, a surgical procedure in which an injected substance can add bulk and fullness to your vocal cords may be considered.
Cancer of the larynx. Risk factors for this cancer include age over 60, smoking and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Detected early, vocal cord cancer can often be successfully treated with surgery or radiation.
Spasm of a vocal cord muscle. This causes undue tension on part of your vocal cord. It usually occurs intermittently. The problem can often be successfully treated with an injection of botulinum toxin (Botox) that paralyzes the muscle in spasm. Symptom relief usually lasts for three to six months, after which a repeat injection will be needed.
Not all treatments, tests and services are available at all Mayo Clinic Health System locations. Check with your preferred location in advance.