Department of Otolaryngology


On its own, hoarseness is not a disease. It is a symptom of other vocal cord problems. It means the voice sounds raspy or breathy, quieter and lower pitched.

Hoarseness risk factors and causes

Anyone who speaks or sings can end up hoarse.

Hoarseness causes

Hoarseness can result from a variety of causes, such as:

  • Allergies, a cold or respiratory tract virus
  • Improper use of or abuse of the voice
  • A trauma to the voice box, such as an injury or a feeding tube
  • Acid reflux
  • Aging
  • Smoking
  • Other conditions such as stroke, cancer, thyroid problems or neurological disorders

Hoarseness complications

Hoarseness is a symptom of something else. It makes you difficult to understand.

Hoarseness symptoms and diagnosis

Hoarseness means the voice sounds lower and softer, and more raspy and breathy.

Hoarseness symptoms

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty speaking or singing
  • Rough voice
  • Voice tires easily

Hoarseness diagnosis

An examination by a doctor will evaluate your overall health, and look at causes for hoarseness. Your doctor will ask if you smoke, which can impact the vocal cords.

Your voice box, or larynx, which contains your vocal cords, will be examined with a mirror and a light. The doctor may also use a flexible, lit instrument called a laryngoscope to get a good look at your throat, and the functioning of your vocal cords.

A specialist in ear, nose and throat disorders may evaluate the quality of your voice, looking for other clues for diseases or conditions which have hoarseness as a symptom. Breathiness can mean a polyp or tumor is present. A raspy voice may mean that the vocal cords are inflamed or swollen; indicating an infection or irritant is present.

Additional tests may be necessary, depending on the cause of the hoarseness.

Hoarseness treatment

Treatment depends on the condition causing the hoarseness. Solutions can include quitting smoking and resting the voice. More serious conditions may require surgery.

Make an appointment for hoarseness

The experts at University of Pittsbugh Voice Center stand ready to help diagnose the cause of your hoarseness. Call 412-232-SING (7464) for an appointment.