When your voice goes hoarse, everyday interactions suddenly become much more challenging. Leading that meeting at work turns into a painful struggle. Speaking with your family becomes a tiresome chore. Even ordering food for dinner devolves into a challenge. All of that means it’s natural to start counting down the days until your voice returns to normal. Do you know when to see a specialist?
What if the raspiness or strain in your voice lingers. How long should you brave discomfort before you see a specialist? And will a specialist be able to bring back your voice sooner?
The Duration of Your 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 – again, depending on the root cause. The healing time will vary from person to person.
However, in general, if your hoarseness is not better within two weeks, you should try to 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.
How Do You Know What an Obvious Cause Is?
Of course, knowing whether there’s an obvious cause for your hoarse throat means you have to be familiar with some of the more common possible culprits. A hoarse throat can be 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 rhinoviruses (the common cold). Most of these infections operate slightly differently, though the results may feel similar.
- Overuse: 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. And this could 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 Should You See a Specialist?
The duration and the cause of your hoarse throat will be two of the most essential and key factors when deciding whether to see a specialist or not. But both of those criteria present significant and interdependent variability. That is, a cold might normally make your throat sore for a few days, whereas laryngitis could trouble your voice for weeks.
So the basic rule of thumb is this. You should see a specialist if any of the following are true:
- 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.
What Happens When You See a Specialist
Once you’ve decided to see an ENT specialist, you can start getting some answers regarding the cause of your hoarse throat. In general, your ENT may evaluate you for a variety of likely causes. The treatment will vary depending on the root cause established by that evaluation. In the case of a cold, your ENT may ask you to drink more fluids to help thin out the mucus and saliva irritating your throat.
Other causes may require more complex treatment or evaluation. Some of those treatments may be behavior-related (for example, if your hoarse throat is caused by improper vocal work, your ENT may provide you with better education).
If you have any concerns about your hoarse voice or if you feel as though your sore throat has gone on too long, make an appointment with your ENT so you can receive specialized – and individualized – attention unique to you and your symptoms. After all, knowing when to see a specialist is just the first step.