How to Treat Chronic Hoarseness

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Q. What can I do about treating chronic hoarseness?

A. A raspy, rough voice may be a symptom of a score of disorders. See your doctor if your hoarseness lasts more than two weeks and you have no ready explanation (the remains of a cold, for example).

This is particularly important if you smoke. Your primary care physician may be able to determine the cause of your symptoms or may send you to an otolaryngologist.

Hoarseness may be an early symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). Other possibilities include hypothyroidism, benign polyps or nodes on the vocal cords (larynx), cancer of the larynx, or a relatively rare condition called vocal cord paralysis.

In addition, many drugs—for example, antidepressants, diuretics, antihypertensives, asthma drugs—and even excessive amounts of vitamin C can cause hoarseness. Fortunately, the disorders that produce hoarseness can be treated.

When you see your doctor, bring a list of medications you take. If you are under unusual emotional strain, mention that, too. Stress can affect your voice. If you have no underlying illness, a voice therapist may be able to train you in vocal techniques and teach you rehabilitation exercises.

For tumors, surgery may be the best or the only option. Other chronic problems may be improved by certain kinds of injections to “plump up” aging vocal cords or by repositioning vocal cords with surgical implants.

If your doctor says you need surgery, you may want a second opinion before proceeding. General tips: Don’t smoke, avoid polluted air (including harsh cleaners and heavy perfumes), and don’t whisper—it’s harder on your voice than just talking.