Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx, which is also sometimes called the “voice box.”
The larynx is a tubular organ that contains the vocal cords, and it is located between the trachea and pharynx. It is also part of the respiratory system and helps people talk, breathe and swallow.
Laryngitis can be acute or chronic. Doctors define chronic laryngitis as lasting over three weeks.
Causes of acute laryngitis include bacterial infections, viral infections, or strain caused by overusing the voice.
Chronic laryngitis has multiple causes. People who use their voices a lot, such as cheerleaders or singers, have a higher risk than most for developing chronic laryngitis. People who smoke or drink too much alcohol are also susceptible to chronic laryngitis. Acid reflux disease and chronic sinusitis can cause chronic laryngitis. Inhaling irritants like smoke, chemical fumes, or allergens can also cause chronic laryngitis. Less common causes of chronic laryngitis include parasitic, fungal, or bacterial infections.
More serious causes of chronic laryngitis include cancer and paralysis of the vocal cords. The latter can be caused by stroke, injury, or a tumor within the lungs.
Chronic laryngitis can also develop in some older people as their vocal cords become bowed.
In laryngitis, the vocal cords become inflamed and swollen. Consequently, the patient’s voice becomes hoarse or weak. In some cases, the patient may lose their voice altogether. Laryngitis is also often accompanied by a dry or sore throat, a tickling sensation in the throat, and a dry cough.
Laryngitis generally isn’t serious, and the symptoms typically clear up within two weeks. The patient should see their doctor, however, if they have trouble breathing or swallowing, cough up blood, experience worsening pain, or if they have a persistent fever.
A parent should take their child to the doctor if they have trouble swallowing or breathing, develop a temperature higher than 103° F, or make high-pitched, whistling noises called stridor when breathing. Such symptoms can indicate croup or epiglottitis. The latter is inflammation of the epiglottis, the “lid” covering the trachea, and can be life-threatening.
Treatment will depend on whether the laryngitis is acute or chronic and what caused it. In any case, the doctor will advise the patient to rest their voice as much as possible. They should also keep their throat hydrated by drinking plenty of water, gargling with salt water, or sucking on a lozenge. Salt water not only soothes a sore throat, it can also reduce swelling. The patient should also keep a humidifier in their room to moisten the air.
The patient should avoid decongestants, coffee, and alcohol, for they will all dry out the throat. Similarly, they should avoid rooms or other areas that are dusty, dry, or smoky.
The doctor may recommend corticosteroids to relieve the inflammation of the vocal cords. They are especially likely to prescribe corticosteroids if the patient has to use their voice in the near future. For instance, if the patient is scheduled to give a speech, the doctor will give them corticosteroids.
If the laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics.