What is Hoarseness?

Most people with voice problems complain of “hoarseness” or “laryngitis.” A more accurate description of the problem is often helpful in identifying the cause. Hoarseness is a coarse scratch sound caused most commonly by abnormalities on the vibratory margin of the vocal fold. These may include swelling, roughness from inflammation, growths, scarring, or anything that interferes with symmetric, periodic vocal fold vibration. Such abnormalities produce turbulence which we perceive as hoarseness. Breathiness is caused by lesions (abnormalities) that keep the vocal folds from closing completely, including paralysis, muscle weakness, cricoarytenoid joint injury or arthritis, vocal fold masses, or atrophy of the vocal fold tissues. The abnormalities permit air escape when the vocal folds are supposed to be tightly closed. We hear this air leak as breathiness.