We all experience problems with our voice from time to time. We may become hoarse, or even lose our voice completely. Most of the time this is temporary and our voice returns to normal on its own. But, occasionally, hoarseness or loss of voice can be a symptom of a condition that may need treatment.
If you've been feeling hoarse for a while, feel as if you have a permanent lump in your throat, or if you've noticed changes in your voice, then it's a good idea to speak to one of our ear, nose and throat specialists. They'll discuss your symptoms in detail and will examine you carefully in order to understand the cause of your symptoms and the best way to treat them.
One of the most common voice disorders is laryngitis - an inflammation of the voice box. The symptoms can include sore throat, hoarseness and, sometimes, loss of voice. There are two types of laryngitis: acute and chronic.
Acute laryngitis is often caused by a viral infection such as a cold. It will usually clear up on its own within a few weeks without the need for treatment. You can help yourself heal faster by resting your voice as much as possible, avoiding smoking, or smoky places, and drinking lots of water.
Symptoms of chronic laryngitis last much longer and can be caused by smoking, alcohol or allergies. So, the treatment will depend on its exact cause and may include making some changes in your life such as reducing, or stopping, smoking or drinking alcohol. Our ear, nose and throat specialists will examine your larynx and discuss your symptoms in order to suggest the best course of action for you.
Environmental and behavioural causes
Our environment or the way we use our voice can also cause problems. For example, through working in a polluted or smoky environment or straining your voice box through the way you speak, such as shouting or excessive whispering.
Your treatment will depend upon the cause of your voice problems. If it's caused by smoking then the best treatment is to stop. With allergies, our ear, nose and throat specialists will need to identify the things that you're allergic to so you know what to avoid. Taking antihistamines may also help.
Sometimes, the way that we use our voice can be the cause of the problem. For example, excessive shouting, and even whispering, can put strain on the voice box. Our ear, nose and throat specialists will talk to you about how you use your voice when speaking and suggest things you may need to change. Often, treatment will involve learning to rest your voice, avoiding shouting or clearing your throat excessively, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding irritants, such as smoke, alcohol or polluted areas. In some cases, speech therapy may help you to learn how to use your voice differently in order to reduce and eliminate your symptoms.
Voice problems may also be caused by acid-reflux. Acid reflux happens when the acid in the stomach leaks back up the gullet (oesophagus). This can irritate the throat and vocal chords, causing voice problems. You may feel heartburn, have a sore throat and feel as if there's a lump in your throat. Treatments include avoiding foods and drink that cause acid-reflux such as spicy food and alcohol. And anti-reflux drugs may also be helpful in reducing the symptoms and allowing your voice to return to normal.