LARYNGITIS

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx, that causes your voice to become raspy or hoarse.

Laryngitis can be short-term or long-lasting (chronic). Most of the time, it comes on quickly and lasts no more than 2 weeks.

Chronic symptoms are those that last 2 weeks or longer. Check with your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. Your laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems.

What causes laryngitis?

Acute laryngitis

Most cases of laryngitis are temporary and improve after the underlying cause gets better. Causes of acute laryngitis include:

  • Viral infections similar to those that cause a cold
  • Vocal strain, caused by yelling or overusing your voice
  • Bacterial infections, such as diphtheria, although this is rare, in large part due to increasing rates of vaccination

Chronic laryngitis

Laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks is known as chronic laryngitis. This type of laryngitis is generally caused by exposure to irritants over time. Chronic laryngitis can cause vocal cord strain and injuries or growths on the vocal cords (polyps or nodules). These injuries can be caused by:

  • Inhaled irritants, such as chemical fumes, allergens or smoke
  • Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Habitual overuse of your voice (such as with singers or cheerleaders)
  • Smoking

Less common causes of chronic laryngitis include:

  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Infections with certain parasites

Other causes of chronic hoarseness include:

  • Cancer
  • Vocal cord paralysis, which can result from injury, stroke, a lung tumor or other health conditions
  • Bowing of the vocal cords in old age

If the cause of laryngitis is infectious, affected adults will have symptoms of a viral infection, such as:

  • Upper respiratory tract infection, or cold
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pain with swallowing
  • A feeling of fullness in the throat or neck
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of voice

In infants or children, the classic signs and symptoms of an inflamed larynx caused by infection include:

  • Hoarse barky cough or croup
  • Fever

DIAGNOSIS

If you have chronic hoarseness, your doctor may want to listen to your voice and to examine your vocal cords, and he or she may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist (otorhinolaryngologist).

These techniques sometimes are used to help diagnose laryngitis:

  • Laryngoscopy. This involves inserting a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a tiny camera and light through your nose or mouth and into the back of your throat. Then your doctor can watch the motion of your vocal cords as you speak.
  • Biopsy. If your doctor sees a suspicious area, he or she may do a biopsy — taking a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope.

 

RECOMMENDED MEDICATIONS

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

Chronic laryngitis treatments are aimed at treating the underlying causes, such as heartburn, smoking or excessive use of alcohol.

Medications used in some cases include:

  • Antibiotics. If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic.
  • Corticosteroids. Sometimes, corticosteroids can help reduce vocal cord inflammation.

Some self-care methods and home treatments may relieve the symptoms of laryngitis and reduce strain on your voice:

  • Breathe moist air. Use a humidifier to keep the air throughout your home or office moist. Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water or a hot shower.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible. Avoid talking or singing too loudly or for too long. If you need to speak before large groups, try to use a microphone or megaphone.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration (avoid alcohol and caffeine).
  • 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 even more strain on your voice than normal speech does.

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