Laryngitis is a condition characterized by swelling and irritation in the vocal cords. The vocal cords are two folds of muscle, cartilage, and mucous membrane in the larynx that are responsible for creating sounds through the passage of air over the cords. Laryngitis is an inflammation of this structure, which causes raspiness in the voice. Laryngitis may present in an acute or chronic form.
Definition & Facts
Overuse, infection, or irritation can lead to laryngitis, and the most common trigger is thought to be either vocal strain or viral infections. Many cases aren't serious and often subside on their own. More severe cases may include chronic symptoms that never fully abate, which could point to a more serious underlying condition as the root cause.
Acute cases of laryngitis are most often the result of overuse or strain, and chronic cases are more likely to be the result of something more serious. Everyone is equally susceptible to the condition under the same triggers, although some may experience more severe symptoms as a result of anatomy or genetic predisposition.
Symptoms & Complaints
Many instances of laryngitis can be treated at home, since the symptoms typically respond well to rest and fluids. More severe symptoms can result from continued strain during an episode of laryngitis, possibly even damaging the tissue in the vocal cords. Medical attention should be sought if any of the following symptoms present during a case of laryngitis:
These symptoms are exceptionally rare as a result of laryngitis, but they can occur in the worst instances of the condition. If any symptoms last longer than two weeks, regardless of severity, they should be reported to a doctor immediately.
Acute and chronic laryngitis have two different sets of potential causes, due to the nature of each illness. In most cases, acute laryngitis is merely a symptom of another condition, and when that condition is relieved, so is the laryngitis. Chronic laryngitis, however, tends to be the result of exposure to a regular trigger, like an airborne irritant. The causes of both acute and chronic laryngitis are listed below.
- Vocal strain
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection (in rare cases)
- Sinus infection
- Smoking or second hand smoke
- Excessive vocal use
- Acid reflux
- Exposure to allergens, chemicals, or other irritants
- Vocal cord paralysis
Certain forms of cancer have been known to cause chronic laryngitis, and changes to the shape of the larynx with age can also create inflammation and irritation.
Diagnosis & Tests
When doctors suspect the presence of laryngitis, they most commonly refer to the presence of symptoms first. A hoarse, dry voice tends to point toward a positive diagnosis, but any of the other common symptoms could lead to further tests. Some doctors may refer patients suffering from such symptoms to a specialist.
In order to confirm the presence of laryngitis, a doctor might perform one of two tests. The first is known as a laryngoscopy. During this procedure, the doctor uses a small light and mirror to visually assess the back of the throat. Other versions of the procedure involve using a fiberoptic camera to directly access a view of the vocal cords through the mouth or nose. By creating such a line of sight, a doctor can better understand what issues may be affecting a patient.
The second primary method of confirming laryngitis is a biopsy. This involves taking a small tissue sample from the affected area and studying it under a microscope to search for signs of inflammation or infection. Biopsies are often done not only to confirm the presence of laryngitis, but to also rule out the possibility of cancer as the root cause.
Treatment & Therapy
Most cases of acute laryngitis clear up on their own within the first week, especially if the proper therapeutic measures are taken. Instances of chronic laryngitis are better dealt with by treating the underlying cause. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed if the condition is thought to be caused by a bacterial infection, but this is rare.
Most physicians will prescribe corticosteroids in the most intense cases to combat the inflammation associated with laryngitis. Such medications may only mask the symptoms without treating the real issue, so doctors are wary against prescribing unnecessary medicine except in the most extreme circumstances.
Home care therapies are suggested to help fight the affects of laryngitis, whether it be chronic or acute. The following is a brief outline of some common remedies that can be used to ease the symptoms.
- Inhale steam from a humidifier to prevent dry throat
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Rest the voice
- Gargle with salt water
- Avoid straining the voice
- Take lozenges for a sore throat
- Whispering can strain a voice, so avoid it
- Don't take decongestants
Prevention & Prophylaxis
Spicy foods should be avoided, since they create stomach acid that might lead to acid reflux. Proper vitamin intake promotes healthy mucous membranes, which directly affects the larynx. Any source of irritation, inflammation, or dryness should be avoided to prevent laryngitis.