Oct. 3, 2011 at 12:33 PM ET
As fall allergies act up or school kids get their first round of seasonal colds, it's not unusual to hear a voice that sounds hoarse or croaky -- what's described as a "frog in the throat."
When Dr. Ramon Franco, director of the division of laryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, hears this complaint he says it can mean one of two things. It can mean a temporary hoarseness when patients try to speak, or people may feel like there's a lump in the throat -- as if they swallowed a frog.
The three main causes of the hoarseness type of "frog in the throat" are viral, allergies, or reflux, explains Franco. Anything that disturbs the opening and closing of the vocal folds (what we commonly call the vocal cords), can deepen your voice and make it sound rough.
For seasonal allergy sufferers, mucus from the sinuses can make its way into the throat and act as a wedge, interfering with the vocal folds regular opening and closing pattern. This changes the sound of your normal voice so it seems raspy and strained. Sometimes simply clearing the mucus in your throat helps your usual voice return.
During a viral illness, mucus can also clog up the inner workings of the voice box leaving you sounding husky.
If it's not seasonal allergies and you don't have a cold, sore throat, or flu, Franco says the likely culprit is "silent reflux," known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). Acid from the stomach can come up and hit the bottom part of the throat irritating the delicate voice box. When this happens less than 50 times a day, that's normal. When LPR reflux happens more frequently provoked by such common triggers as spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, carbonated beverages, and smoking, it can irritate the throat over time.
To defend itself from the acid backwash, the throat blankets itself with a mucus coating. But if too much mucus buildups as a protection against reflux, it may cause excessive throat clearing, a persistent cough, or "a frog in the throat."
A froggy throat is often a temporary annoyance that goes away after a viral illness runs its course or allergy symptoms are relieved. If it's from silent reflux, start by avoiding the dietary or lifestyle habits that trigger acid into the throat.
For a "frog" that feels like a lump in the throat or that something is in there when you swallow, which doctors call the globus sensation, Franco says inflammation is probably responsible. This can be brought on by a bad cold, reflux, a viral infection, allergies, or enlarged tonsils.
But if you've been consistently hoarse and your voice sounds abnormal for more than two weeks, make a doctor's appointment. This could be anything from an infection or polyps to thyroid problems or cancer. If you truly discover a lump in your neck, Franco recommends seeing your doctor immediately to find out what's causing the swelling.
Readers, what's your best remedy for a gravelly voice?