inflamed larynx
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Respiratory Illness

The most common culprit for that rasp in your voice? An infection in your airways. A cold, the flu, bronchitis, or another upper respiratory infection can make your vocal cords swell temporarily -- also known as laryngitis.

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airborne pollen
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Seasonal Allergies

Just like viruses, outdoor allergies to certain trees and plants in bloom can cause laryngitis. The irritation and drainage that hit your airways might also make you clear your throat more often and inflame your vocal cords.

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tonsillitis
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Tonsillitis

A virus on your tonsils (the oval-shaped tissue pads at the back of your throat) causes tonsillitis -- and can lead to a scratchy, muffled voice. You’ll likely have other symptoms like a fever, swollen tonsils that look white, yellow, or red, and a sore throat that makes it hard to swallow.

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cheering fans
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Voice Stress

When you misuse your voice, it can do temporary damage your vocal cords. It could happen if you talk loudly for a long time, shout, belt out a song at the top of your lungs, or talk in a really high or really low voice. It should get better with time, rest, and lots of water.

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doctor examining patient throat
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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Sometimes the inflammation caused by this condition can affect a small joint in your neck near your vocal cords called the cricoarytenoid joint. If you have RA, ask your doctor about your hoarse voice, especially if you feel like there's something stuck in your throat. It could cause trouble breathing later on.

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thyroid gland
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Thyroid Problems

The thyroid gland sits in your neck just in front of the nerves that control your vocal cords. Problems with it that can lead to long-lasting hoarseness include: hyperthyroidism (it makes too much thyroid hormone, and your body burns energy too fast), hypothyroidism (it makes too little, and your system gets too slow), or even thyroid cancer.

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neurons firing
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Nerve Conditions

Diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or myasthenia gravis can cause a hoarse, raspy voice because of their effect on your vocal cord nerves. It’s unlikely that voice problems would be the first and only symptom you’d have. Usually, they’re just one of many other signs of these diseases.

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man using asthma inhaler
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Yeast Infection

Do you get chronic laryngitis? It’s rare, but sometimes a fungus -- like those that cause yeast infections -- could be to blame. If you use an asthma inhaler, you might be more likely to have yeast in your vocal cords.

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squamous laryngeal carcinoma cells
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Precancerous cells

Abnormal cells growing on your larynx or voice box, the hollow organ that holds your vocal cords -- can press on your vocal cords and keep them from working the way they should. Your larynx is lined with squamous cells, so cancerous cells go on to be squamous cell carcinomas. If you find cancer of the larynx early, it’s easy to treat.

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vocal cord polyp
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Noncancerous Bumps and Lumps

Growths like polyps, cysts, or nodules aren’t cancerous, but they can push on vocal cords in the same way precancerous growths do. Professional singers are at high risk of getting them. They result from the constant friction of your vocal cords rubbing together, much like a blister forms on your heel when your shoe is too tight. Typically, it takes rest, therapy, or surgery to treat them.

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acid reflux
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Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), makes stomach acid rise up into your throat or even onto your vocal cords. Over time, this laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) irritates your throat tissues. Usually your hoarseness will be worse in the morning, if GERD is the cause. You may not have any heartburn at all when you have LPR.

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woman smoking in car
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Smoking

Breathing in smoke, either by smoking yourself or by taking it in secondhand, can cause permanent changes your vocal cords over time. When they swell, the pitch of your voice could get deeper. Smoking also raises your risk of throat cancer.

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prescription pills
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Medications

Corticosteroids, the medication inside an asthma inhaler, can sometimes cause dysphonia -- otherwise known as difficulty speaking. Other meds that can mess with your voice quality include antihistamines; diuretics; anticholinergics used to treat bladder problems, Parkinson’s disease, or depression; and blood clot medications.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 03/19/2019 Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 19, 2019

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

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SOURCES:

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Hoarseness.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Laryngology,” “Losing Your Voice? What’s Going On in Your Body,” “Thyroid disease.”
Mayo Clinic: “Laryngitis,” “Tonsillitis.”

Biomedical Research: “An often overlooked joint in rheumatoid arthritis: cricoarytenoid joint.”
American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer.”
American Family Physician: “Hoarseness in Adults.”
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: “Common Problems That Can Affect Your Voice.”
American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery Foundation: “Hoarseness.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on March 19, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.