What is hoarseness?

Hoarseness is a condition marked by changes in the pitch or quality of the voice, which may sound weak, scratchy or husky. Hoarseness can be caused by misuse or overuse of the voice, viruses and growths on the vocal cords like cysts, papillomas, polyps and nodules, among others. Acid reflux from the stomach may also cause hoarseness.


  • Abnormally weak, breathy or coarse voice
  • Change in voice pitch
  • Noisy breathing (stridor) or swallowing difficulties caused by laryngeal growths

Depending on the underlying condition causing the hoarseness, other symptoms may be present. For example, a viral illness can also result in a sore throat, cough and sneezing.


  • Physical exam
  • Throat exam
  • Possible imaging tests of the vocal cords and throat
  • Laryngoscopy (visualization of the larynx with a laryngoscope), usually performed in the doctor’s office


The underlying cause will determine the treatment, so proper testing and diagnosis are crucial. Hoarseness caused by a viral infection will go away on its own most of the time. Bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotics.

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