Teachers, public speakers, cheerleaders, and singers are all at risk for voice hoarseness because they overuse, misuse, and strain their vocal cords daily. With rest, the problem usually subsides. A cold or any other upper respiratory infection can also lead to temporary laryngitis.
But when you have a hoarse voice that won’t go away, it’s time to find out why.
Although your hoarse voice can stem from several different causes, at The Endocrine Center in Houston, Texas, our specialists often see patients with a hoarse voice related to thyroid nodules and dysfunction. Here, we explain exactly what that means and when it requires treatment.
Common causes of a hoarse voice
In addition to upper respiratory infections and overuse, your hoarse voice could be a symptom of:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): when stomach acid travels up your esophagus and irritates your larynx
- Vocal polyps, nodules, or cysts: bumps on your vocal folds
- Vocal fold bleeding: ruptured blood vessels
- Vocal fold paralysis: dysfunction typically caused by injury or infection
- Neurological disorders: nerve miscommunication or neurological disease
When you have a voice problem, the most obvious culprit seems to be the vocal cords and the soft tissue folds that generate sound. But sometimes, the problem lies elsewhere — like in your thyroid gland.
How your thyroid gland affects your voice
Your thyroid is a small gland situated just under your larynx (Adam’s apple) at the front of your throat. It has two lobes, which give it the shape of a butterfly. Although it’s small, your thyroid has a big job — it produces the hormones that regulate your digestion, body temperature, and heart.
Sometimes, often for reasons unknown, small thyroid nodules develop on the surface of the gland. In many cases, these tiny bumps don’t cause any symptoms, so you may not even know you have thyroid nodules unless a doctor detects them during an exam. The types of thyroid nodules include:
- Fluid-filled cysts
- Colloid nodules, benign overgrowths
- Inflammatory nodules caused by long-term swelling
- Multinodular goiter, when several nodules enlarge the thyroid
- Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules that produce thyroid hormone indiscriminately
- Cancerous thyroid nodules, rarely
Typically, thyroid nodules are harmless. But if they multiply or become too large, they can cause some problems.
A hoarse voice is one of the most common symptoms of large thyroid nodules because they protrude and press against your vocal cords. This not only changes your voice, but it also makes it difficult to swallow and breathe.
If you have hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules, you may face some problems beyond a hoarse voice. This type of thyroid nodule has a mind of its own, and it pumps out thyroid hormone without waiting for a signal to do so. This can lead to hyperthyroidism and a flood of thyroxine in your bloodstream.
Treatment for thyroid nodules
To determine whether you have thyroid nodules — and if so, which type — we run a series of tests, including a thyroid hormone blood test, thyroid ultrasound, and possibly a thyroid scan using radioactive iodine. If we suspect cancer, we perform a fine-needle biopsy to take a sample of the cells in the thyroid.
In most cases, thyroid nodules don’t need any treatment at all other than regular monitoring. If you have hyperfunctioning nodules, we may recommend radioactive iodine treatments to shrink them. Surgical removal is the best way to address cancerous thyroid nodules.
If you have a hoarse voice that won’t go away, don’t ignore it because it may point to a serious health condition. Find out if your thyroid is the problem by scheduling an appointment with The Endocrine Center specialists. We have three convenient Houston locations, so call or click today.