Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx which can be acute or chronic. The larynx, also referred to as voice box, is an organ located in the upper neck (behind throat) that houses our vocal cords. Its primary functions are to produce the sounds that allow us to speak and to allow air to pass through while blocking the foods and drinks we consume from the airway. So, the larynx is critical to human speech and the respiratory system. Laryngitis can be caused by infection, irritation, or overuse which causes the vocal cords to become inflamed. This results in the voices being distorted, hoarse, or temporarily nonexistent.
Typically, laryngitis is short lasting (acute) and dissipates once the underlying cause is treated. Temporary laryngitis can be caused by:
- Vocal strain: resulting from overuse of the vocal cords which can happen by yelling, screaming, or overusing your voice.
- Viral infection: such as colds, the flu, or bronchitis
- Bacterial infection: which is rarer because vaccines are common and people regularly get vaccinated
Laryngitis is chronic if the condition lasts longer than three weeks. This is typically caused by consistent irritation of the larynx. In addition to vocal strain, chronic laryngitis can cause growths on the vocal cords. This type of laryngitis can be caused by:
- Inhaling toxic substances (fumes from various chemicals, smoke)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease: a chronic digestive condition where acid from the stomach enters the esophagus. Also known as acid reflux
- Chronic sinusitis
- Constant overuse of voice
The majority of cases of laryngitis are caused by more minor factors like strain of the vocal cords or viral infection which are easily treatable.
The symptoms of laryngitis are easily recognizable and include:
- Loss of voice
- Dry or itchy throat
- Soreness of throat
- Throat feels raw or tender
These symptoms typically last less than a few weeks and can be self-managed.
Laryngitis is a minor health issue that is typically alleviated in less than three weeks. The best treatment is to simply rest one’s voice. Additionally, there are helpful things you can do to ease inflammation and support the healing process including:
- staying hydrated by regularly drinking fluids
- moisture helps alleviate the dryness so using a humidifier could be useful
- avoid inhaling smoke, dust, and other toxins
- ingesting various remedies that help with sore throats (tea, mint, lemon etc.)
If you are experiencing any pain, you can take over the counter pain medication to alleviate symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
If you are still experiencing symptoms past two to three weeks, it could be time to see a doctor. Other indications that you may need to consult with a physician are:
- if you have a high fever (usually 103 degrees or higher)
- if you are coughing up blood
- if you are having difficulty breathing
- if you are experiencing difficulty swallowing
- if the pain has increased
These symptoms are more severe and could be the result of an undiagnosed medical issue that you are experiencing. To find out, a doctor can use a few methods during your appointment including the following:
- Examine your throat and take a culture which is a swab of the microorganisms living in and around your larynx. This is a key way to detect and identify infection so taking a culture during this appointment can expose the specific bacteria or virus causing your laryngitis.
- Use an endoscope to get a closer look at your larynx and vocal cords. An endoscope is a thin tube with a camera that is inserted into your mouth or nose and extended to your throat.
This allows the doctor to identify the exact cause of your laryngitis or identify the specific medical issue you are experiencing.
You cannot prevent laryngitis caused by a viral infection, you can only try and treat the symptoms. But you can be proactive about maintaining healthy vocal cords by:
- Eliminating your exposure to irritants such as smoke
- Reduce your risk of catching a cold, flu, or respiratory infection by regularly (and effectively) washing hands
- Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated