When your voice becomes hoarse, everyday interactions become unexpectedly challenging. Leading a work meeting becomes a painful struggle, conversing with family feels like a tiresome chore, and even ordering dinner becomes a challenge. It’s only natural to eagerly anticipate the days until your voice returns to normal.
But what if the raspiness or strain persists? How long should you endure discomfort before seeking help from an ENT specialist? And will seeing a physician be able to bring back your voice sooner?
How long does it take to heal from hoarse throat?
In general, a hoarse voice will heal itself over the course of a few days, especially if you’re resting and there is no underlying damage. If you continue to strain or overwork your vocal cords during that time period, you may prolong the healing process, depending on the root cause. The healing time will vary by individual.
In general, if your hoarseness is not better within two weeks, we recommend you see an ENT doctor (also known as an otolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat doctor). You should also schedule an appointment with an ENT specialist if your hoarse voice has no obvious causes—if you didn’t strain your voice shouting or you’re not battling a harsh cold.
Common causes of hoarse throat
A hoarse throat is commonly caused by the following:
- Viral infections, such as laryngitis: Infections of the vocal cords, such as laryngitis, can cause inflammation and, as a result, hoarseness. A hoarse voice can also be caused by viruses such as influenza or the common cold. Most of these infections operate slightly differently, though the symptoms may feel similar.
- Overuse of voice: If you tend to do a lot of unassisted public speaking, or you were shouting a lot at the most recent football match, or you’ve been belting it out for your local choir, you might be suffering from excess vocal cord use, a cause a hoarse throat.
- Smoking: The use of tobacco products can cause a wide variety of problems with the larynx, including hoarseness, tightness, and discomfort… In these cases, it’s usually a good idea to let your ENT perform an exam to ensure no signs of smoking-related cancers.
This list of causes is not comprehensive. Some causes of a hoarse voice need to be evaluated by your doctor. But the short version is this: if your hoarse throat is not caused by an infection, the flu, or exertion, you might want to see an ENT.
When to see an ENT specialist for hoarse throat
The duration and underlying cause of your hoarse throat are pivotal factors in determining whether to consult a specialist. However, both these criteria exhibit significant and interdependent variability. For instance, a common cold may typically result in a sore throat for a few days, while laryngitis could affect your voice for weeks.
As a general guideline, consider seeking the expertise of a specialist if any of the following conditions apply:
- Your hoarseness has lasted longer than two weeks (this one is especially true if you smoke)
- You’ve noticed any lump on your neck.
- You happen to be coughing up blood.
- You have no signs of a cold or the flu.
- You have trouble swallowing or experience difficulty breathing.
- You experience pain when you speak or when you swallow.
- Your pain, discomfort level, or hoarseness changes suddenly.
Diagnosing and treating hoarse throat
Once the decision to consult an ENT specialist has been made, you can begin to uncover the reasons behind your hoarse throat. Generally, your ENT may conduct an evaluation to identify various potential causes, and the treatment approach will be tailored to the specific root cause determined during this assessment. For instance, in the case of a cold, your ENT might recommend increased fluid intake to alleviate the irritation caused by thickened mucus and saliva.
For other causes, more intricate treatments or assessments may be necessary. Behavioral interventions, such as improved vocal techniques, could be suggested if improper vocal practices are identified as the cause.
If you have concerns about your hoarse voice or if your sore throat persists, scheduling an appointment with an ENT in your area ensures that you receive specialized and personalized attention tailored to your unique symptoms. Recognizing when to seek the expertise of a specialist marks just the initial step in this process.