Hoarseness refers to a difficulty making sounds when trying to speak. Vocal sounds may be weak, breathy, scratchy, or husky, and the pitch or quality of the voice may change. Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords, which are part of your voice box (larynx) in the throat. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness.

The most common cause of hoarseness is a cold or sinus infection, which usually goes away on its own within two weeks.

Common causes    

  • Colds or upper respiratory infections
  • Overuse or abuse of the voice (as in shouting or singing)
  • Breathing in irritating substances
  • Chronic coughing
  • Heavy smoking or drinking, especially together
  • Allergies
  • Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux)

Less common causes include:

  • Foreign object in the esophagus or trachea
  • Swallowing a harsh chemical liquid

Home care

Hoarseness may be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Rest and time may improve hoarseness. Hoarseness that continues for weeks or months should be checked by a health care provider.

Things you can do at home to help relieve the problem include:

  • Talk only when you need to until hoarseness goes away.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help keep your airways moist. (Gargling does not help.)
  • Use a vaporizer to add moisture to the air you breathe.
  • Avoid actions that strain the vocal cords such as whispering, shouting, crying and singing.
  • Take medicines to reduce stomach acid if hoarseness is due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Do not use decongestants which can dry out the vocal cords.
  • If you smoke, cut down or stop at least until hoarseness goes away.

When to call your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have trouble breathing or swallowing.