Hoarse baby voice: causes and treatments

It’s surprising and a little disturbing to hear your baby’s usual sweet cooing replaced by a hoarse voice. But try not to panic as there are many reasons your baby may have a hoarse voice and most of them are quite easy to deal with.

First of all, it is important to understand how the voice works in order to understand why baby’s hoarse voices occur.

The mechanics of the voice

Place your fingers lightly against the front of your throat and sing a song. Do you feel something vibrating? It is the exhaled air exiting your lungs, into your larynx, and through your vocal cords or folds.

When air passes through the narrow opening (glottis) between the almost closed vocal cords, the air vibrates and voice is produced. Hoarseness occurs when the vocal cords do not vibrate normally.

So what can affect the normal functioning of the vocal cords? There are several things and identifying which one is at stake can help you treat the cause.

Timing can help you diagnose hoarseness. If your baby seems hoarse after long crying, you can blame him. Ditto for a cold or cough: a drop and post-nasal phlegm can affect these vocal cords and lead to hoarseness.

Here are some reasons why hoarseness can occur and how to deal with them:

Excessive crying

Most likely, you can attribute your baby to over-exercising his vocal cords. Think about the last loud sporting event or concert you attended. How did your voice sound after all the cheering or screaming you heard? Likewise, a hoarse baby is most likely hoarse from overuse.

Of course, you’ll want to comfort your baby when they cry excessively, but it’s not always easy to eliminate the reason for the tears.

Excessive crying can occur if you have a baby who hates (necessary) car rides, if you are working out on sleep training, or just if your baby is having a day off when nothing seems to console him.

Do your best to calm the crying, offer plenty of breastfeeding time or a pacifier, and give your little one a chance to rest their vocal cords and the hoarse voice should clear up.

Diseases

Laryngitis, croup, and the common cold are caused by viruses that inflame these vocal cords. The air flowing through the inflamed folds produces a hoarse voice.

Viruses like the ones that cause croup will need to run their course. Ditto for a cold. But you can provide relief by cleaning the nasal passages using sprays, saline solutions, and a nasal aspirator. A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can be especially helpful for croup.

Ask your doctor about other possible treatments if the illness or hoarse voice persists for more than a few days.

Congestion

Some infections cause mucus to build up and may accompany a runny or stuffy nose. The extra secretions can flow down the throat and affect the vocal cords. Allergies lead to the same problem.

If your toddler is sick, talk to your doctor about possible treatments for the condition. If allergies are the cause, additional cleaning or modifications may be needed to reduce dust, dander, or other allergens in your home.

Reflux

With gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acids are sent to the back of the throat. Unsurprisingly, this can also cause hoarseness.

Note that hoarseness alone would be an unlikely sign of GERD. You would see other indications, such as difficulty feeding, spitting up, vomiting, crying with food, or insufficient weight gain.

This can sometimes be treated by giving smaller and more frequent feedings. Try to hold your baby upright after a feed and burp him often. In more severe cases, medication or even surgery may be needed.

Vocal cord nodules

Vocal cord nodules or cysts may be considered in an infant with a persistent hoarse voice – especially if hoarseness is present from birth.

These can be congenital, when the baby is born with something affecting their vocal cords, or caused by something that develops over time, such as a cyst or hemangioma.

Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP)

This rare disease causes recurrent, wart-like benign growths on or around the vocal cords. Your medical team will decide if these need to be treated with surgery.

Tumor

Tumors can be serious. Hoarseness that persists or is accompanied by severe breathing problems or feeding difficulties should be treated promptly.

Injury

Injury can also cause hoarseness. Swallowing caustic acids or poisons, inserting a breathing or feeding tube, and trauma to the body (such as a car accident) can damage tissue.

If you think your baby has ingested something that he shouldn’t have, seek emergency care right away.

Congenital anomaly

Sometimes an infant is born with a deformity of the larynx (voice box) which houses the vocal cords. In other cases, the laryngeal nerve responsible for moving the vocal cords is damaged.

Again, discussing your baby’s hoarse voice with your pediatrician can help identify problems and create a treatment plan if necessary.

About Christopher Johnson

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