Hoarseness is a general term which describes abnormal voice changes. When hoarse, the voice may sound breathy, raspy, strained, or there may be changes in volume (loudness) or pitch (how high or low the voice is). The changes in sound are usually due to disorders related to the vocal folds, which are the sound-producing parts of the voice box.
There are many causes of hoarseness, but most are not serious and tend to go away in a short period of time. The most common causes are acute laryngitis, which usually occurs due to swelling from a common cold, upper respiratory tract infection, or irritation caused by excessive voice use such as screaming or yelling at a sporting event or concert.
While hoarseness due to a cold or flu may be short-lived and easy to manage, hoarseness that lasts longer than two weeks or has no obvious cause should be evaluated. It is very important to see a doctor if your hoarseness lasts longer than two weeks, or if you experience coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, a lump in the neck, or a complete loss/change in voice lasting longer than a few days.