Laryngitis is a condition where your voice box or vocal cords become inflamed or swollen from overuse, irritation, or infection. Laryngitis can be acute, lasting less than three weeks; or chronic, which lasts more than three weeks. 

Most often, symptoms of acute laryngitis go away on their own, while chronic laryngitis is more severe. Laryngitis is not a serious medical condition in itself and is often related to another illness, such as a cold, or the flu. 

To understand the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of laryngitis, let’s first take a look at what is your voice box and how it functions.

How Does Your Voice Work?

Voice refers to the sound you produce to communicate meaning, ideas, opinions, etc. 

Your vocal folds (vocal cords) are attached within the larynx, commonly called the voice box, which is an organ in the top of the neck, primarily involved in breathing, and producing sounds. The larynx is the passage to your lungs and the “thyroid cartilage” or "Adam's apple", is the largest and the uppermost cartilage (smooth elastic tissue, rubber-like padding that covers and protects the ends of long bones).  

The vocal folds produce sound when they come together and then vibrate as air passes through them during the exhalation of air from your lungs. This vibration produces the sound wave for your voice. 

But with laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. The inflamed vocal cords distort the sounds produced by air passing over them, resulting in the hoarseness of your voice. If you have chronic or severe laryngitis, your voice can become almost unrecognizable.

Causes of Laryngitis          

  • Viral infections, commonly caused by rhinovirus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, coronavirus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)       

  • Straining your vocal cords by talking or yelling continuously      

  • Drinking too much alcohol              

  • Frequent sinusitis (sinus infections)

  • Bacterial infections             

  • Being around smokers or smoking excessively        

  • Overusing your voice, especially if you have a teaching or singing job

Symptoms of Laryngitis

You can present with one or more symptoms if you have laryngitis.

  • Weakened voice      

  • Hoarseness of voice      

  • Temporary  loss of voice

  • Dry or sore throat

  • Dry cough

  • A constant urge to clear your throat

  • Trouble speaking

When to Seek Help

If you have severe symptoms such as the following, it is advisable to consult your ENT specialist:

  • A fever that is not going away with medications

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Severe pain in your throat

If you have ulcers or polyps (abnormal tissue growths that look like small bumps) in your throat, you should immediately seek advice from your doctor.

Diagnosis of Laryngitis

Your doctor will first do a throat culture to identify if the cause of your laryngitis is a bacterial or a viral infection.

Next, he/she is most likely to examine your voice box or vocal cords using a special mirror. Depending on the initial physical examination, a laryngoscopy might be performed. During laryngoscopy, your voice box is magnified for easy viewing. 

If you have a lump or growth of any sort in your throat or the voice box area, your doctor may recommend doing a biopsy. A biopsy is a sample of tissue taken from the body in order to examine it more closely.

Treatment of Laryngitis

Treatment of laryngitis is mostly symptomatic. If you are diagnosed with viral laryngitis, the symptoms usually disappear without treatment in a few days. To treat bacterial laryngitis, which is rare, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are the medications that are used to treat bacterial infections.

Other treatment methods include ease of symptoms of laryngitis such as swelling or inflammation, sore throat, and dry cough.

Tips to Ease The Symptoms of Laryngitis

  • Take adequate and sufficient rest. Use your voice as little as possible.

  • Use a humidifier or inhale steam to alleviate the dryness of your throat.

  • Drink lots of fluids, preferably warm or sip on plain water throughout the day.

  • Gargle with warm salt water, at least 2 -3 times a day to relieve a sore throat.

  • Eat foods that are easy to swallow. Eat soft peeled, canned, or strained fruit and cooked mashed vegetables.

  • Eat foods rich in vitamin C such as lemons, oranges, cabbage, etc., to boost your immune system.

  • Do not whisper or try to strain your voice as it can irritate the inflamed larynx and worsen the pain.

  • Reduce intake of caffeine, spicy foods, and other beverages as it can aggravate acid reflux (a digestive disorder in which stomach acid irritates your food pipe and the larynx), which is also a cause for laryngitis.

  • Avoid smoking and being around people who smoke.

  • Wash your hands regularly to avoid catching colds and upper respiratory infections like the flu and sinusitis.

  • Avoid alcohol intake.

Laryngitis is not often serious and in most cases resolves without treatment in around 7 days. If you have severe symptoms, then consult your physician/ENT specialist immediately.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.