Q: What causes hoarseness?
A: Hoarseness is a term used to describe a change in voice for the worse. This can be caused by a number of things including swelling of the vocal folds, a vocal fold lesion, or inefficient use of the voice. Any of these can cause the vocal folds to either not close fully against one another or impede the vibration of the vocal folds. The vocal folds remain apart when breathing, but sound is created when the vocal folds vibrate together.
Q: What causes cancers of the voice box?
A: The most common cause of cancer of the larynx is smoking. This, especially in combination with heavy alcohol consumption, causes a dramatic increase in the risk of laryngeal (voice box) cancer. It is possible for people who have no smoking or drinking history to have a cancer of the voice box, but this is quite rare.
Papillomas, which are benign tumors of the larynx (not cancer), are caused by a viral infection.
Q: What special techniques should be practiced by a person who uses their voice professionally as a singer or speaker?
A: Professional singers and speakers must take extra care to maintain a healthy voice box since their voices represent their livelihood. They also use their voices more than the average person under conditions that may cause additional strain. It is important to remember that voice use is cumulative, be it singing or speaking.
Q: What can I do to protect my voice?
A: There are many simple things you can do to take better care of your voice and avoid vocal strain. They include:
- Don't smoke
- Avoid shouting or straining the voice
- Drink lots of water to hydrate the voice box
- Schedule periods of the day with no talking to allow the voice to rest
- Avoid repetitive clearing of the throat
- Treat coughs as soon as possible and try to minimize hacking coughs
- Practice good posture