Hoarseness, due to irritation of the larynx, is commonly caused by upper respiratory infections, reflux of stomach acid, and/or postnasal drip. Upper respiratory infections: People frequently develop a persistent cough following a common cold. A cycle may develop in which episodic coughing results in throat irritation, which causes more coughing and more irritation. The larynx then becomes even more susceptible to other irritants such as acid reflux and posterior drainage from the nose. It is important to break the coughing cycle by maintaining adequate hydration, taking throat lozenges, and avoiding throat clearing.
Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD): Acid from the stomach can reflux up through the esophagus to the larynx. The resulting acid exposure can cause a multitude of symptoms, including hoarseness, throat discomfort, swallowing problems and a feeling of a foreign body caught in the throat.
Acid reflux may occur at night, so that sleeping patients do not notice symptoms of heartburn. Treatment of GERD includes antacids, elevating the head of the bed, changing the diet, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
Postnasal drainage: Mucous drainage from the nose can cause throat irritation and hoarseness. Nasal steroid sprays and nonsedating antihistamines may help reduce the amount of drainage.
Less common causes of hoarseness and voice change include decreased thyroid function, vocal cord paralysis, vocal cord nodules or polyps, and tumors of the larynx. Hoarseness lasting more than four-six weeks should be evaluated by a physician. Otolaryngologists can visualize the both mirrors and flexible fiberoptic telescopes.