Fixing a Raspy Voice: What You Need to Know
Raspiness or hoarseness are general terms that describes abnormal voice changes. When the voice is raspy or hoarse, changes may be seen in volume (loudness); pitch (how high or low the voice goes); or stability (how steady the voice is).
WHY IS MY VOICE HOARSE?
There are many causes of a raspy/hoarse voice, but fortunately most are not serious. The most common cause is swelling – usually from a cold, upper respiratory tract infection, or irritation cause by excessive voice use (e.g. screaming or singing for a lengthy period of time). Typically, this is temporary and your voice should return to its normal state within a few hours, the next day, or when your cold subsides.
WHAT IF MY HOARSE VOICE WON’T GO AWAY?
Prolonged raspiness is usually due to using your voice either too much, too loudly, or improperly for extended periods of time. This can lead to vocal nodules (callous-like growths on the vocal cords) or vocal polyps (stalk-like callous growths). Vocal nodules are common in both children and adults who use their voice extensively for work or play.
A raspy voice may also be due to gastroesophageal reflux or “heart burn” (stomach acid that travels up the esophagus and irritates the vocal cords). Typically with this issue, the voice is worse in the morning and better in the middle of the day. You may feel a “lump in throat” sensation or an excessive need to throat clear.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP IT?
When raspiness/hoarseness persists for longer than 2-3 weeks, it is best to seek assessment by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT)). The ENT will determine if there is any pathology that is triggering the raspiness. A speech-Language pathologist (S-LP) can then assess the functioning of the vocal cords and determine next steps for treatment and reduction of the raspy vocal quality. This will typically involv changing the way the person uses their voice, improving breath support, and reduction of vocally abusive behaviors.
For mild hoarseness the following tips may help to reduce the symptoms:
Avoid dehydrating agents such as alcohol and caffeine
Drink plenty of water
Stop smoking and avoid second hand smoke
Humidify your home with cool mist
Avoid spicy and acidic foods
Avoid singing when voice is in the healing process
Reduce the amount of talking you do daily
Linda Saarenvirta is a speech-language pathologist who has been practicing for over 20 years in the healthcare field. She has worked with a variety of communication disorders and clients of all ages. She is extremely passionate about voice therapy and enjoys helping clients achieve their vocal needs. Her client centered approach to therapy ensures all clients maximize their potential and achieve their goals.