A friend recently messaged me saying her voice was changing, and had become raspy. She wanted to know if that was normal for someone in their mid-50s.
Now, it is true that our bodies do get drier as we age, especially women’s, and chronic dryness can create some mild hoarseness. But after a bit of discussion, she decided to see and ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat doctor) who determined that she has developed allergies. After just a couple days of a new routine, she noticed a difference in her voice.
I have often heard the phrase “she has a naturally raspy voice, ” which is a case in point. While there are some physical conditions that cause a person to be chronically hoarse (including vocal cord paralysis or paresis, a sulcus vocalis, atypical formation of structures in the larynx, and so on), most people who are chronically hoarse do not have these issues.
If you don’t have a medical condition of that sort, ongoing hoarseness isn’t “normal”.
What causes hoarseness
Hoarseness is a disruption of the even vibration and closure of the vocal cords. In other words, something isn’t functioning as smoothly as it could.
Run-of-the-mill laryngitis is caused by irritation and swelling of the vocal cords. This is true whether the hoarseness comes from illness, prolonged use, or screaming at a sportsball game.
If allowed to heal, this irritation can resolve and the voice returns to normal. If we don’t allow it to heal, it can become chronic. This can lead to nodules (nodes), polyps, and other forms of vocal injury. Once in this territory, people often need voice therapy (and rarely surgery) to resolve the injury.
Other common medical causes for hoarseness include vocal cord cysts, granulomas, bowing/weakness, damage to the larynx or nerves innervating the larynx, other lesions (papilloma, cancer), hemorrhage, neurological conditions (e. g., ALS) and some other conditions.
The way a person uses their voice is often the cause of hoarseness. People might think your voice is your voice, whatever it sounds like is just how it is. But we have the ability to use the voice in a ton of different ways; we just landed on our habitual one because of repetition.
The great news here is that while voice use can lead to hoarseness, it can also be the way out; certain ways of talking are therapeutic and heal vocal damage.
That’s right, you can organically change the way you use your voice without it being fake. See my post Stop wrecking your voice! to get more details about what hurts and helps your voice.
Keeping your vocal cords happy
The main thing your voice wants is hydration. See my post Why you need to keep your voice moist (That’s right, I said “moist”!) for specifics about how to accomplish this.
The other important piece is removing irritants. Acid reflux, allergies, effects of certain medications, and chronic cough can all irritate the vocal cords, causing them to get inflamed or otherwise annoyed.
So what do I do if I’m hoarse?
The important thing isn’t necessarily the aesthetics of your voice, you might love the hoarse quality. The concern is that the hoarseness is a sign that something is going on in your throat or elsewhere in your body. It may be nothing serious, but it could be something you’d prefer to know about sooner rather than later.
See my post Help! I lost my voice! for more details about how to manage vocal issues. Even mild hoarseness is worth attention.
If you are hoarse and want to know more, schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation.