Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx. In most cases, it gets better without treatment in about a week. The symptoms of laryngitis can start suddenly and get worse, usually over a period of two to three days. You can find more information below.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is inflammation of your voice box (also known as larynx or larynx) due to overuse, irritation, or infection.

Inside the larynx you have vocal cords, they are two layers of mucous membranes that cover muscle and cartilage. Normally, your vocal cords open and close smoothly, creating sounds with their movements and vibrations.

But with laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. This causes distortion of the sounds produced by the air passing over it. As a result, your voice sounds muffled. In some cases of laryngitis, your voice may become almost imperceptible.

Laryngitis can be short-lived (acute) or long-term (chronic). Most cases are triggered by a temporary viral infection or vocal strain and are not serious. Persistent hoarseness can sometimes indicate a more serious underlying medical condition.

What causes laryngitis?

The causes of this condition are separate for the acute type and separate for the chronic type:

Causes of acute laryngitis

Most of these cases are temporary and resolve once the underlying cause has healed. Causes of acute laryngitis include:

  • Viral infections similar to those that cause the common cold
  • Vocal strain from shouting or overusing your voice
  • Bacterial infections such as diphtheria

Causes of chronic laryngitis

If laryngitis lasts longer than three weeks, it is known as chronic laryngitis. This type is usually caused by exposure to irritants over time. The chronic type can cause vocal cord strain and injuries or growths in the vocal cords (polyps or nodules). These injuries can be caused by:

  • Inhaled irritants such as chemical fumes, allergens, or dust
  • Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • chronic sinusitis
  • excessive alcohol use
  • Unusual overuse of your voice
  • To smoke
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Less common causes of chronic hoarseness include:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Some parasites and infections

Other causes of chronic hoarseness include:

  • Cancer
  • vocal cord paralysis, which can be caused by injury, stroke, lung tumor, or other health condition
  • Bowing of the vocal cords in old age

Who is at risk?

Risk factors for laryngitis include:

  • Having a respiratory infection such as a cold, bronchitis, or sinusitis
  • Exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol intake, stomach acid, or workplace chemicals
  • Overusing your voice by talking too much, talking too loud, shouting, or singing

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

In most cases, symptoms last less than a few weeks and are caused by something minor like a virus. Less often, laryngitis symptoms are caused by something more serious or long-lasting. Symptoms of laryngitis can include:

  • hoarseness
  • Weak voice or loss of voice
  • Throat tickling and brittleness of your throat
  • Throat ache
  • dry throat
  • dry cough

When should you see a doctor?

You can manage most cases of acute laryngitis with self-care steps, such as resting your voice and drinking plenty of fluids. Heavy use of your voice during an attack of acute laryngitis can damage your vocal cords.

You should see a doctor if your symptoms persist for more than two weeks.

You should also seek immediate medical attention if:

  • If you have trouble breathing
  • if you have a cough with blood
  • If you have a fever that doesn’t go away
  • If you are experiencing increasing pain
  • If you have difficulty swallowing

Seek immediate medical attention for your child if:

  • Makes a loud, high-pitched sound when breathing
  • If you have difficulty swallowing
  • If you have trouble breathing
  • If the fever is higher than 39.4 C

These symptoms may indicate inflammation of the larynx and the airway just below it. This condition can usually be treated at home, but serious symptoms require medical attention. These symptoms may also indicate epiglottitis , which is inflammation of the tissue that acts as a valve (epiglot) to cover the windpipe (trachea), which can be life-threatening for children and adults .

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How is laryngitis diagnosed?

The most common symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness. Changes in your voice can vary depending on the degree of infection or irritation, ranging from mild hoarseness to almost complete loss of voice. If you have chronic hoarseness, your doctor may want to listen to your voice and examine your vocal cords and may refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

The following techniques are sometimes used to help diagnose laryngitis:

  • Laryngoscopy: Your doctor may visually examine your vocal cords in a procedure called laryngoscopy, using a light and a small mirror to look at the back of your throat, or your doctor may use fiber optic laryngoscopy. This involves inserting a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a small camera and light through your nose or mouth and into the back of your throat. Your doctor may then monitor the movement of your vocal cords as you speak.
  • Biopsy: If your doctor sees a suspicious area, they may perform a biopsy, that is, take a tissue sample for examination under a microscope.

How is laryngitis treated?

Acute laryngitis usually gets better on its own within a week. Self-care measures can also help improve symptoms.

Chronic laryngitis treatments aim to treat any underlying causes, such as heartburn , smoking, or excessive alcohol use.

Medications used in some cases include:

  • Antibiotics: In almost all cases, an antibiotic will not work because the cause is usually a viral infection. But if you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic.
  • Corticosteroids: Sometimes corticosteroids can help reduce vocal cord inflammation. However, this treatment is only used when there is an urgent need to treat laryngitis. For example, it can be used when you need to use your voice for singing, speaking or giving oral presentations.
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Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Some of the following self-care and home treatments can ease symptoms and reduce tension in your voice:

  • Breathe moist air: Use a humidifier to keep the air in your home or office moist. You can inhale the steam from a bowl of hot water or from a hot shower.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible: Avoid speaking or singing loudly or for too long. If you need to talk to large groups, try to use a microphone or megaphone.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (avoid alcohol and caffeine) to prevent dehydration .
  • Moisten your throat: Try sucking on lozenges, gargling with salt water, or chewing a piece of gum.
  • Avoid decongestants: These medications can dry out your throat.
  • Avoid whispering: This puts more strain on your voice than normal speech.

Can laryngitis be prevented?

To prevent dryness or irritation in your vocal cords, you can do the following:

  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke: Smoke dries out your throat and irritates your vocal cords.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine: These cause you to lose total body water.
  • Drink lots of water: Fluids help keep the mucus in your throat thin and easy to clear.
  • Avoid eating spicy foods: Spicy foods can cause stomach acid to enter the throat or esophagus, causing heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
  • Include whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet: These foods contain vitamins A, E and C and help protect the mucous membranes that make the throat healthy.
  • Avoid clearing your throat: This does more harm than good because it causes an abnormal vibration in your vocal cords and can increase swelling. Clearing your throat also causes your throat to secrete more mucus and feel more irritated, making you want to clear your throat again.
  • Avoid upper respiratory infections: Wash your hands frequently and avoid contact with people with upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold.

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