Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx (voice box) that causes a hoarse, raspy voice and – in some cases – a complete loss of speech. Though temporary and rarely associated with a serious condition, laryngitis causes misery for anybody suffering from it. If symptoms persist longer than two weeks, you should seek medical attention.
Causes & Symptoms
There are two types of laryngitis: acute, lasting for a few days; and chronic, persisting for two weeks or longer. The majority of laryngitis cases are acute, with symptoms coming on suddenly and disappearing after a brief period. The common cold or flu, acid reflux (otherwise known as GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease), and excessive straining of the vocal cords can all lead to acute laryngitis. Chronic laryngitis is usually the result of an upper respiratory tract infection or an obstruction of the nasal passages such as nasal polyps. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also contribute to persistent, recurring symptoms.
Patients suffering from laryngitis will experience hoarseness that is sometimes accompanied by a total loss of voice. Other symptoms include sore throat, cough, fever, and difficulty swallowing.
Diagnosing & Treating Laryngitis
Your physician will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination that may include checking your ears, nose and throat for signs of inflammation; feeling your neck for lumps; and performing a laryngoscopy (a visual exam of the vocal cords).
Home treatment is usually all that is required for laryngitis. Rest your voice, drink plenty of fluids, and use a humidifier to moisten the air. Do not whisper, as this adds strain to the vocal cords. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to alleviate discomfort. If your symptoms are related to a bacterial virus, antibiotics will be prescribed.
Chronic laryngitis may require modifications to your lifestyle. You may have to make changes to the way you speak or sing. If there is vocal cord damage, corrective surgery is an option.
Preventing laryngitis isn’t always possible, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. Avoid putting too much pressure on your vocal cords: don’t overuse or abuse your voice, and try not to yell or whisper too often. Keep hydrated, and stay as healthy as possible.