Hoarseness refers to a difficulty making sounds when trying to speak. Vocal sounds may be weak, breathy, scratchy, or husky, and the pitch or quality of the voice may change.
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Hoarseness is most often caused by a problem with the vocal cords. The vocal cords are part of your voice box (larynx) located in the throat. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness.
The most common cause of hoarseness is a cold or throat infection, which most often goes away on its own within 2 weeks.
A rare but serious cause of hoarseness that does not go away in a few weeks is cancer of the voice box.
Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.