Hoarseness

hoarsenessWhat does a music concert, laryngitis, and smoking all have in common? They can cause hoarseness. I’m sure you have found yourself at one point not being able to speak. Your voice gets raspy and deep, and no one can understand you. Hoarseness is not an uncommon phenomenon. Hoarseness is a result of injury to or irritation of the vocal cords. Hoarseness is not a disease in itself but a result of a disease or a symptom of a disease. It is the vocal cords that create the tone of voice. Instead of blaming your lack of singing ability on your parents, blame it on your vocal cords. They play a huge factor in the way our voice sounds. The vocal cords are like guitar strings but function more like a harmonica. They are thick bands that rest on either side of the larynx.  You may be familiar with the term voice box. The voice box is not a box that sits in the throat that needs tuning, in fact, it is the larynx. In a way, it is a house for the voice. You do not have to be hoarse forever; there are treatments and things you can do to prevent losing your voice.  

Your Vocal Cords

You may think you have several vocal cords, but you only have two. I stated earlier that the vocal cords are like guitar strings but function more like a harmonica. I say this because the vocal cords are thick, folded membranes that vibrate like plucked guitar strings. A harmonica creates a sound based on the strength and vibration of the air that hits the inside. This too is how vocal cords operate. No one plucks the cords to make them vibrate. They vibrate as a result of airflow. They are stretched on each side of the pharynx allowing for vibration from the air. The pressure of the air that flows changes the pitch of your voice. Nerves also control vocal cords. These nerves are called laryngeal nerves.

The vocal cords operate based on pitch (rate of vibration). The pitch is not only a result of vibration but also the length and width of the vocal cords. Surprisingly, your pitch can be related to emotions. When singing, higher tones are associated with a stretching of the vocal cords whereas lower tones result from a constricting of vocal cords. Women tend to have higher voices from the result of shorter vocal cords, so vibrations move along them faster, but men have longer vocal cords causing a slower rate of vibration. Hoarseness is related to vocal cord problems but can be caused by several different things.

Causes of Hoarseness

Hoarseness can be a cause of many different things. It is also considered a symptom. Laryngitis is one apparent cause of hoarseness. The larynx houses the vocal cords. Therefore, inflammation of the larynx may hinder air vibrations on the vocal cords. You may find yourself becoming hoarse after yelling or even singing a lot. This hoarseness is a result of trauma to the vocal cords. The constant stretch on the vocal cords from shouting or singing can cause both temporary and permanent damage. The vocal cords can become strained and require rest to heal. Smoking may not cause you to lose your voice, but it can damage the voice box. This damage tends to lead to the voice becoming deep and raspy. Any infection in the respiratory system can cause hoarseness. Other problems include cancer, benign tumors, thyroid issues and allergies. Vocal cord nodules are noncancerous growths that settle on the vocal cords. Vocal cord nodules occur as a result of persistent strain on the vocal cords. Vocal cord nodules is a problem you may notice more in singers.

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Treating Hoarseness

hoarsenessTreatment of hoarseness is dependent upon the cause of the hoarseness. Any allergy related hoarseness can be cured with allergy medication. Some illnesses that cause hoarseness may only be cleared by antibiotics. Laryngitis is one example. Rest is the best form of treatment for hoarseness that results from vocal cord strain. It is good to drink liquids that are either warm or at room temperature. This assists in healing. The warmth of the liquids soothe the vocal cords. If at all possible try to not talk at all to give your vocal cords a rest. If that is an impossible feat, keep your voice low. Do not yell or scream. Whispering is best.

Hoarseness can be a result of more serious problems. These problems may be related to thyroid issues, nodules, or even tumors that are in the throat. Surgery is typically the form of treatment for nodule and tumor removal. Some nodules go away on their own, but if the problem persists or creates lesions, surgery is needed. If the thyroid is not working properly, it may have to be removed. Some treatments do not totally cure hoarseness but can keep the voice from becoming worse. Things like smoking can leave permanent damage to the vocal cords and leave you with a lower tone voice.

Hoarseness can get the best of any of us. Knowing ways to prevent hoarseness can keep you from permanent damage. In most cases, hoarseness is a symptom that can be treated easily and with a little medication. There are more serious underlying conditions that may require the use of medication and surgery. Hoarseness does not always cause pain, but not being heard can be painful enough. Hoarseness is typically a temporary symptom but if it persist or gets worse, see a physician; there could be an underlying cause. Don’t let hoarseness stop you. Take measures to prevent it and be kind to your vocal cords. Don’t be the person always yelling, speak in a soft tone. The person that’s yelling may be heard more, but the one speaking in a soft tone will be heard longer.  

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