When the larynx, or the voice box, comes inflamed, it is known as laryngitis. The larynx is located just atop of the trachea, which is where the throat and the lungs cross and meet up. The larynx has two separate folds of skin on either side of it, which are called the vocal cords. The vocal cords create recognizable sounds and speech depending on how they are loosened or tightened.
To put it into perspective, imagine stretching the neck of a balloon in order to make that pitched squeak; this is how the vocal cords work, in essence.
Usually, the vocal cords are assisted by mucus, thinly and smoothly layered onto it, coating the cords to lubricate them. However, in the event that the larynx is affected by a bacterial infection or a virus, inflaming them, the mucus may either dry out or thin due to the swelling of the vocal cords. When the vocal cords dry up, the end result is a raspy or a hoarse voice, often accompanied by a cough and a fever.
Laryngitis is acute when it does not last longer than a few days. When it lasts up to over three weeks, it can be categorized as chronic.
Several people develop this condition due to straining their vocal cords.
Public speakers, lecturers and others who regularly use their voices as a requirement of their careers are recommended to use some kind of equipment for amplification or to at least undergo vocal training.
This is especially the case for those whose livelihoods depend on the usage of their voices, such as coaches, singers, cheerleaders and more.
These persons should all become very aware of the possibility of strain on the throat. Typically, a professional singer will receive special training so that they may properly defend themselves from developing laryngitis from stress.
Usually, an instance of laryngitis is a temporary one and the illness generally improves once the underlying cause experiences relief. Some causes of acute laryngitis may include:
- A cold or other similar virus infections;
- A virus such as the mumps or measles;
- Yelling, overusing the voice or other similar vocal strain;
- Bacterial infections, though rare, such as diphtheria.
When this condition occurs for over three weeks, it becomes categorized as chronic. This kind of laryngitis will usually be caused by irritants over a long period of time. Chronic laryngitis may cause strain of the vocal cords, injuries, or even growths, known as polyps or nodules. The injuries may be caused by:
- Inhaled irritants, such as allergens, chemical fumes or smoke;
- Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD;
- Chronic sinusitis;
- Excessive use of alcohol;
- Constant overuse of the voice, such as with cheerleaders or with singers; and
Other factors that are known to cause laryngitis include the overconsumption of caffeine. This will often dry out the mucus that is necessary to coat over the vocal cords, which leaves them vulnerable to being inflamed. To alleviate the pain, it is possible to suck on medicated lozenges, or instead gargling water with salt in it. However, refrain from using mouthwashes with alcohol as this will likely just cause more dryness. The best way to resolve this issue is to refrain from coming into contact with irritants.
Less commonly, two other causes of chronic laryngitis may include:
- Fungal or bacterial infections; or
- Being infected with certain kinds of parasites.
There are a couple of other causes for instances such as chronic hoarseness, including:
- Vocal cord bowing due to old age; and
- Paralysis of the vocal cords, which is possible to result from a lung tumor, stroke, injury or similar health conditions.
For the most part, laryngitis will usually just be due to a minor cause and will last a few days, such as a cold. However, there are some instances of laryngitis symptoms being due to something a bit more serious or chronic. Some of the signs and symptoms of laryngitis occurring including:
- Weak voice;
- Loss of voice;
- Rawness feeling in the throat;
- Ticking sensation in the throat;
- Dry throat;
- Sore throat; and
- Dry cough
When to See a Doctor
Most instances of acute laryngitis can usually be managed at home with a few tips, including drinking a wealth of fluids and resting the voice and vocal cords. However, should the hoarseness remain for over two weeks, an appointment should be made with the doctor.
Seek medical attention immediately in the event that a child is experiencing a loss of voice combined with any of these other symptoms:
- The child drools more than usual;
- The child has difficulty breathing;
- The child experiences high pitched sounds of breathing when inhaling;
- The child has trouble swallowing; and
- The child has a fever measuring over 103 degrees Fahrenheit, or 39 degrees Celsius.
These symptoms point to croup, which is the inflammation of both the larynx and the airway that lies just beneath the larynx. Though most cases of croup may be successfully treated at home, when the symptoms are severe, medical attention is required.
Going to the Doctor
At first, a general practitioner or the family doctor may be seen. However, upon calling to make the appointment for the doctor, there may be the recommendation or the referral to another doctor who specializes in disorders that occur in the nose, throat and ears.
Since appointments have a habit of being brief, and since there is quite a bit of ground that needs to be covered, it is likely a good idea to ensure that the fullest preparation is undergone for this appointment. The following sections cover suggestions on preparing for the appointment as well as what to expect from the doctor.
What Can Be Done
- Make note of any restrictions for pre-appointments. Upon calling to make the appointment, make sure to ask if there are any prerequisites or any such things that much be done in advance, prior to coming in.
- Take a notepad and write down any and all symptoms that are currently being experienced, even those that may not seem to directly related to the reason for having made the appointment in the first place.
- On the notepad, write down all key information pertaining to personal life, which should include recent life changes as well as any major stresses that have been occurring.
- Make a note of all medication that is being taken, even if it is just a supplement or a vitamin.
- If possible, have a member of the family or a friend tag along for the ride. There may be a wealth of different information offered during an appointment, and it may be difficult to take it all in at once. The companion will be helpful in remembering things that may have otherwise been missed or forgotten.
- Remember to write down any questions for the doctor.
The list of questions will ensure that the time spent with the doctor is the most effective, which is especially important because time with the doctor is quite limited. To work against time running out, try to list the questions from most important down to the less important. Sample questions that may be asked to the doctor may include some of the following:
- What is causing the symptoms or the laryngitis?
- Could there be any other causes for these symptoms of this condition?
- What kind of tests will be necessary?
- Is this condition more likely temporary or chronic?
- What is the best way to handle it?
- Are there any good alternatives to this primarily suggested approach of action?
- These other health conditions also apply. How can these both be managed properly together?
- Are any certain restrictions present that are important to follow?
- Is it necessary to see a specialist?
- How much will it cost to see a specialist, and will this insurance cover such an appointment?
- Is there any kind of generic alternative to the medication that has been prescribed for this condition?
- Do any Web sites come recommended to handle this condition? Are there any printed materials, such as a brochure, that can be taken home which pertains to this condition?
If there is time present, in addition to the questions that have been prepared to ask the doctor at the appointment, feel free to ask any additional questions in the event that something within the appointment goes by not understood.
What to Expect From the Doctor
The doctor may also have a few questions, as well, which means it is important to be prepared to answer them. This may reserve time that was to be spent going over other things, otherwise. The doctor make ask:
- When did these symptoms first come to existence?
- Have the symptoms been occasional or continuous?
- How severe are the symptoms?
- If anything, what appears to improve these symptoms?
- If anything, what seems to worsen these symptoms?
- Is anybody close a smoker?
- Are there any allergies present?
- Have the vocal cords recently been overused, either by shouting or singing?
There are a few risk factors:
- Having bronchitis, sinusitis, a cold or a similar respiratory infection;
- Overusing the voice, by speaking too loudly, speaking too often, singing or shouting; and
- Exposure to irritating substances, such as excessive alcohol, cigarette smoke, workplace chemicals or stomach acid.
Tests and Diagnosis
The most common and obvious sign of laryngitis is the presence of hoarseness. Whether or not the voice changes varies in the severity of irritation or infection, which means it can range from a simple mild hoarseness to a nearly complete loss of the voice. In the event of chronic hoarseness, a doctor may wish to examine the vocal cords and listen to the affected voice, and he or she will likely make a reference to a nose, ear and throat specialist.
Some of these techniques may be employed in order to properly diagnose laryngitis:
- Laryngoscopy. The doctor may choose to visually examine the vocal cords using a tiny mirror and a light in order to look down into the back of the throat. This process is called laryngoscopy. Alternatively, the doctor may employ fiber-optic laryngoscopy, which instead involves inserting a thin and flexible tube called an endoscope that has a tiny camera and a light. It is inserted through the mouth and nose and down into the back of the throat. This makes it possible to watch how the vocal cords move during speech.
- Biospy. If or when the doctor notices an area of suspicion, he or she may elect to perform a biopsy, which requires taking a tissue sample and carefully examining it under the assistance of a microscope.
Viruses that cause acute cases of laryngitis usually improve on their own within a week or a bit longer. Chronic, on the other hand, has treatments that aim to treat the underlying causes thereof, such as smoking, heartburn or the excessive usage of alcohol.
Some of the medications that may be employed include:
- Antibiotics. This is rarely used because nearly every case of laryngitis is caused by a virus, rendering the antibiotic useless. However, in the rare instance of a bacterial infection causing the condition, the antibiotic may be used.
- Corticosteroids. There are some instances in which corticosteroids might help with the inflammation of vocal cords. However, this is only really used whenever there is an immediate need to treat the condition, such as needing to use the voice to give a speech, to sing or to present a project orally, or in the case of a toddler who is experiencing laryngitis due to croup.
There are a few different ways to treat this condition at home, and it may relieve the symptoms that laryngitis causes, effectively reducing the strain occurring on the voice:
- Try to breathe in moist air. To do this, try to employ a humidifier in order to introduce moisture into the air throughout the home or through the office. Alternatively, try to inhale the steam that rises from a hot shower or from a bowl of hot water.
- At all costs, rest the voice to the fullest extent. Avoid singing too loudly, singing for too long and employ the same restrictions for talking. In the event that it is necessary to employ the voice before speaking to a large group of people, try to get a megaphone or a microphone to help.
- Avoid dehydration by taking in a healthy amount of fluids while avoiding caffeine or alcohol.
- Try to suck on a medicated lozenge to moisten the throat, or chew a piece of gum or gargle with water with salt in it.
- Do not take any decongestants because this is likely to further dry out the throat.
- Do not whisper. Though normal speech puts a strain on voice, whispering actually causes even more strain on the voice.
To prevent both irritation and dryness to the vocal cords:
- Do not smoke and avoid, at all costs, secondhand smoke. This smoke will irritate the vocal cords and dry out the throat;
- Always drink a good amount of water. Fluids allow the mucus in the throat to stay thin and to stay easy to clear.
- Try not to clear the throat because it actually hurts more than it helps. This is because it causes an abnormal vibration within the vocal cords, increasing the risk of swelling. Clearing the throat may also result in the throat secreting a larger amount of mucus, which causes it to feel even more irritated, which causes people to want to clear their throat again.
- Avoid all upper respiratory infections as possible. Try to get the flu shot every year if the doctor recommends such a thing. Always wash the hands on a regular basis and, as possible, refrain from coming into physical contact with anybody who is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold.