Hoarse voices could be saying something's seriously wrong

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Most people are not too worried when their voice goes hoarse suddenly for various reasons.

A few lozenges or some home remedy should clear it in a day or two, they reckon.

However, doctors say those who suffer the problem should be careful, as a hoarse throat can be a symptom of more serious problems, even cancer, and should seek expert medical treatment.

Nguyen Hong Quan of Ho Chi Minh City had a rough voice, and also felt his throat burn whenever he drank, which was often. And each time he drank, he smoked as well. 

The pain and the roughness got worse over several years, and then he began coughing regularly, and having fever that seemed resistant to normal medications.

But it was only when he lost his voice that he made his way to the Gia Dinh People's Hospital in Binh Thanh District where he lives.

Tests at the hospital's ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Department showed he had laryngeal cancer. Luckily, he was able to get his voice back after an operation.

Dr. Tran Viet Hong, head of the ENT department, said hoarseness is a disorder in sound production by the vocal folds of the voice box (larynx). Common disorders include swelling or lumps in the vocal folds, which are supposed to come together and vibrate when speaking or singing. Injuries to the vocal folds or blockages can also cause hoarseness. 

Every year, the hospital receives hundreds of complicated cases of people with hoarse voices and they have to be treated differently, depending on the cause. The treatments range from antibiotics for bacterial or viral infections to surgeries for tumors, Hong said.

He said teachers and broadcasters are prone to suffer from the condition, as are people living in polluted air environments, which means drinkers and smokers are particularly vulnerable. 

Screaming children

In an article on the Health Ministry's Suc Khoe & Doi Song (Health & Life) forum, doctor Pham Bich Dao writes that children tend to suffer hoarseness when they are between 5 and 10 years old, sometimes as a result of screaming for a long time or simply using more force than needed in producing sounds.

Severe contagious diseases such as measles or rubella also affect sound-producing parts in children, and children of patients with the hoarseness problem are more at risk of contracting it. 

Failure to have improper treatment will leave children with difficulties in reading and learning languages, and they might grow up and live with a broken voice forever, Dao said.

Damaged vocal folds will cause the children to be easily tired when speaking, she said.

Doctors say specialists should be consulted if hoarseness is accompanied by difficulties in breathing or swallowing, runny nose or abnormally high salivation. Hoarseness for more than one week in children or more than three weeks in adults is another warning sign.

Some of the preventive measures people in general and those prone to hoarseness can take is to keep warm and avoid sore throats, refrain from speaking too much or too loudly, and avoid consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

Dr. Hong of Gia Dinh People's Hospital also recommends several porridges and juices that can be taken for at least three consecutive days to facilitate recovery of a hoarse throat. Besides medication, patients can take porridge cooked with red sugarcane juice twice a day, with extra ginger on cold days, or drink the juice after the sugarcanes are burned a little on coal with some ginger.

Porridge with turnip, ginger slices and sugar candy also helps, as does porridge with honey and the core apricot seeds that have been dried in a pan and ground into powder. Porridge with crushed mung beans, young berry leaves, perilla leaves and a little salt is advised to be eaten while the body has been induced to sweat by covering oneself with blankets.

Other therapeutic drinks include a juice mixture of pennywort leaves and goatweed or sweet-broom (Scoparia dulcis) leaves; chrysanthemum tea; or water boiled with water chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis). The cooked chestnut can also be eaten.

Lemons also provide some relief through a somewhat complicated remedy. The lemon is impaled on a chopstick or something similar and salt put into the hole thus formed before the fruit is grilled on coal. Once it turns yellow, it can be juiced and drunk. 

Hong said patients with hoarseness should avoid fatty foods and those with pepper.

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