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Duke Medicine: Pediatric hoarseness

Posted August 13, 2012

It's common for kids to scream and overuse their voices, which can sometimes lead to problems with hoarseness. However, doing so repeatedly, could do some damage to their vocal cords, making it difficult for them to repair themselves and for the hoarseness to go away. When should you become concerned?

Here, Dr. Eileen Raynor, a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon at Duke, reviews the common questions she gets from parents, and offers advice on when to seek professional help.

Q: If my child develops hoarseness that isn’t related to a cold or other illness, is it cause for concern?

A: Occasionally children get hoarse; however, persisting or recurring episodes of hoarseness are more concerning than the occasional voice loss associated with a cold. Frequent hoarseness in young children can be related to how the child uses their voice (e.g. yelling or excessive talking) that causes damage to the vocal folds. These children risk permanent hoarseness and lifetime limitations to their voice that can affect social, educational, and behavioral development.

Q: What are some things to look for that suggest this isn’t just a passing issue?

A: Hoarseness that persists for longer than 2 weeks is never normal. If your child has always been hoarse, sometimes it is hard to appreciate this. Often, teachers, doctors, or other adults are the first to point out a difference in a child’s voice compared to their peers. However, parents may notice other symptoms, like a child talking less due to a tired voice, often needing to repeat him or herself because they are not understood, or limited participation in fun activities like chorus or sports.

Q: My child has a weak, breathy voice. Is this a sign of problems?

A: Some children are natural introverts and may speak quietly; however, they are able to raise their voice if needed. The concern is with children that can never produce a louder voice. If the onset happened after a surgery, there may be a nerve injury affecting the voice. In some cases, the body can recover, but other times intervention is needed. At the very least, recovery should be monitored by a doctor. There may also be swallowing problems like coughing or choking when drinking, which should not be ignored.

For more information from Dr. Raynor, read the full post at DukeHealth.org. Duke Medicine, Go Ask Mom 's sponsor, offers health information and tips every Friday.

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