What you need to know about laryngitis

Laryngitis is the larynx that swells and inflames. It may be acute or chronic but the disorder is transient in most cases and does not have any significant consequences.

The larynx is the home of the vocal cords, sometimes called the voice box. These are vital for the breathing, swallowing and talking processes. The vocal cords are two small mucous membrane folds that cover cartilage and muscle that vibrate to produce sound.

In a 2013 U.S. study of people 3.47 had a diagnosis of chronic laryngitis in every 1,000 people. It is believed that 21 percent of the population in their lifetime may develop chronic laryngitis.

Laryngitis is not often severe, and mostly resolves in about 7 days without treatment.

Important facts about laryngitis

  • Viral infections such as colds are the most common causes of laryngitis.
  • Chronic laryngitis is often caused by lifestyle factors, such as ongoing exposure to irritants.
  • Children with laryngitis can develop another respiratory illness called croup.
  • A doctor may recommend additional testing in more severe cases, such as a laryngoscopy.
  • Acute laryngitis is best treated with self-care measures and rest.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an infection of the vocal cords.
Laryngitis is an infection of the vocal cords.

Laryngitis is a vocal cord inflammation.

The vocal cords usually open and close, with a slow , steady movement to produce the sound. When a person has laryngitis they swell their vocal cords. That changes the movement of air through the throat.

This shift in airflow leads to a distortion of the sounds created by the vocal cords. People with laryngitis will often have a hoarse, gravely or too quiet voice to hear properly.

The inflammation is persistent in chronic laryngitis. Vocal cords, including polyps or nodules, may become stretched and develop growths.

Symptoms

Laryngitis can cause a wide range of symptoms in adults, including:

  • hoarseness
  • difficulty with speech
  • throat pain
  • low fever
  • persistent cough
  • frequent throat clearing

These symptoms start suddenly, and are often more severe over the next 2 to 3 days. If symptoms last longer than 3 weeks, then the case is likely to have become chronic. This indicates an underlying cause more severe that needs further investigation.

Laryngitis sometimes relates to other diseases. Tonsilitis, throat infection, cold or flu may occur alongside a case of laryngitis, which may result in the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • swelling in the glands
  • runny nose
  • pain while swallowing
  • fatigue and malaise

The signs are likely to be healed by the seventh day of infection, without medication. See a physician if the symptoms last for longer, or are serious.

Symptoms in children

For infants, symptoms of laryngitis can vary from those of adults. Sometimes the disorder is characterized by hoarse, barking cough and fever, and may also be present as a croup.

Croup is a common infectious respiratory disease amongst children. While croup is normally a simple disease to treat, severe cases require medical attention.

Children experiencing any of the following symptoms should receive medical attention:

  • difficulty with breathing or swallowing
  • a fever of over 103° Fahrenheit or 39.4° Celsius
  • drooling
  • loud, high-pitched breathing sounds when inhaling

Such symptoms that suggest epiglottitis, too. This is inflammation of the windpipe or tissue surrounding the trachea. Both adults and children may develop epiglottitis, and in some cases , the condition can be life-threatening.

Causes

There are a number of conditions which can cause laryngitis. Typically, acute and chronic forms of laryngitis stem from different factors.

Acute laryngitis

Laryngitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection, often similar to those causing the common cold or flu. Overuse of the voice may also cause larynx to become inflamed. Examples of overuse include loud singing or excessive shouting.

In very rare instances, acute laryngitis canbe caused by diphtheria, a bacterialinfection. Most people in the U.S. havebeen vaccinated for diphtheria.

Chronic laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis is typically caused by the following:

  • acid reflux, a condition in which stomach acid and contents are brought back up into the throat
  • bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection
  • chronic sinusitis
  • excessive coughing
  • exposure to inhaled irritants, such as allergens or toxic fumes
  • high alcohol intake
  • habitual misuse or overuse of voice
  • smoking, including secondhand smoke
  • use of inhaled steroid medicines, such as asthma inhalers

Tests and diagnosis

Typically, doctors treat laryngitis with a physical exam that tests the ears , nose, throat, and voice. In most cases there is no need for any further testing.

Laryngitis is normally diagnosed after a physical examination.
Laryngitis is normally diagnosed after a physical examination.

Hoarseness is the most common symptom of the condition, so doctors will be careful to listen to the person with laryngitis’ voice. They could also inquire about health problems, possible exposure to airborne irritants, and other associated diseases.

If a person presents with chronic hoarseness, a doctor may recommend additional testing to fully examine the vocal cords. Other conditions like a cancer in the throat area can cause chronic hoarseness. To rule out a more severe disease this symptom may need follow-up tests.

When in use, a laryngoscope may be used to observe the motion of the vocal cords and to determine the presence of any polyps or nodules on the vocal cord. A biopsy may be performed if further assessment is required of a suspicious tissue area.

Anyone who has symptoms lasting more than 2 weeks should speak with their doctor. In some cases , a doctor may refer the person with laryngitis to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear , nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

Treatments

Acute laryngitis cases are mostly best treated with rest, home remedies and steps of self-care that can alleviate symptoms.

Self-management

Staying hydrated is important for recovery from laryngitis.
Staying hydrated is important for recovery from laryngitis.

Doctors would normally advise rest to manage laryngitis symptoms.

Resting involves restricting the use of the larynx for laryngitis. Avoid talking, singing, or using the voice box. While whispering may seem like a gentler alternative to speaking at normal volume, this requires tightly stretching of the vocal cords, hampering their recovery. Whispering should be avoided, too.

Other simple home remedies include:

  • avoiding decongestants, as these dry out the throat
  • breathing moist air
  • using acetaminophens, such as paracetamol, or ibuprofen to control the pain
  • avoiding inhalation of irritants, such as smoking or second-hand smoke
  • drinking plenty of fluids

Medications

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics in cases where the bacterial infection has caused laryngitis. However, a recent study found the advantages usually outweigh the risks of administering antibiotics for acute laryngitis.

In serious or urgent cases corticosteroids can be used to alleviate inflammation of the vocal cord. This can apply to people who professional use the voice, such as professional singers or public speakers. Infants with severe croups can also get a corticosteroid course.

Chronic laryngitis may require ongoing treatment in considerable length. This will be determined by the cause of the inflammation. If another disease, such as acid reflux or sinusitis, causes laryngitis, then medication for the underlying condition may also relieve the symptoms of laryngitis.

Treatment for laryngitis may require changes in lifestyle. Of instance, if singing is believed to be the cause of laryngitis, the patient may need to modify their method of singing. For these cases voice training can be recommended. Often it can help to reduce caffeine, cigarette smoke and irritants.

In cases where the vocal chords have been badly damaged due to polyp or nodule growth, a person may need surgery.

Prevention

Many measures can be taken to limit dryness and irritation to the vocal cords.

The following steps might help to reduce laryngitis risk:

  • Avoid clearing the throat.
  • Take steps to prevent upper respiratory infections, such as practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with people who have contagious infections.
  • Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke where possible.
  • Limit or eliminate alcohol and caffeine intake, as these can increase the risk of dehydration.

Laryngitis can be an uncomfortable condition, but it can be easily managed and often short-lived.

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