Just about everyone has sometime or another experienced the joys of a hoarse throat. You wake and when that first call comes in you realize that you sound like a frog or even worse like your friend’s grandfather.

Most of the time the hoarse voice is due to infection. Laryngitis or inflammation of the larynx is quite common. It is almost always caused by a virus so antibiotics won’t work. Try talking softly rather than whispering, as whispering can strain already inflamed vocal cords. Even better just don’t talk. Humidifiers can help soothe the throat pain. And to be sure if you were trying to belt out than Stones tune last night at Karaoke your voice might be (not unexpectedly) hoarse.

But what about when the hoarseness is not due to laryngitis? It can happen suddenly from medications which dry out the throat, if you choke on something and it’s stuck near the vocal cords or from breathing in some toxic fumes. In these cases you will usually feel other more concerning symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough and very painful swallowing with or without drooling.

If the hoarseness comes on gradually and has been around for awhile say for over a week or two, you should be more concerned. Sure it might be something such as a small, benign thyroid nodule pressing on the vocal cords. However, it could also result from a cancerous mass in the neck or spread elsewhere ie metastatic disease. A stroke involving the recurrent laryngeal nerve will paralyze one or both sides of the cords and hoarseness will result.

In short, if it comes on suddenly is not associated with severe difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath or drooling, you can probably wait it out. If you have any of the symptoms just mentioned or if the hoarseness came on gradually, then you should really see your doctor sooner than later.