Laryngitis is a common problem that many people will encounter in the course of a lifetime. Essentially, it is an inflammation of your larynx (voice box) that can happen due to overuse, infection, or irritation.
Your vocal cords are two folds of mucous membrane that cover over some muscle and cartilage. They sit inside your larynx where they open and close smoothly, altering the path of air as it passes through them to form sounds.
When you have laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. They swell up, which makes them sound distorted as air passes through them differently than under normal circumstances. This is why people with laryngitis sound “hoarse” or abnormally quiet.
Laryngitis can be acute (short-lived) or chronic. The most common cause of laryngitis is a viral infection. Once your body fights off the virus, the sound and function of your voice should return to normal. If your voice is hoarse for a long time, however, it can sometimes indicate a more serious underlying condition.
Symptoms of Laryngitis
Symptoms of laryngitis include:
- Quiet voice, or complete voice loss
- Sensation of tickling or rawness in the throat
- Soreness and/or dryness in the throat
- Dry cough
If these symptoms last less than a couple weeks, it’s likely the cause of laryngitis was an infection and not something to worry about. If laryngitis persists for a long time, it could be that there is a more serious cause to be addressed by a medical professional.
Should You See a Doctor?
You don’t need to see a doctor right away when laryngitis starts. You can help yourself through a bout of acute laryngitis by drinking plenty of fluids and resting your voice. It is possible to damage your vocal cords by overusing them during an episode of acute laryngitis, so remember to take it easy, avoid stressful situations, and don’t raise your voice or sing.
If laryngitis lasts more than two weeks, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Seek medical help immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Trouble breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Persistent fever
- Increasing pain over weeks
If your child may have laryngitis, get them immediately to a doctor if you notice any of the following:
- High-pitched, noisy inhalation (stridor)
- Excessive drooling
- Trouble swallowing
- Breathing difficulty
These symptoms can indicate croup, which is a combined inflammation of the larynx and the airway beneath it. Croup can be treated at home, but a severe case needs medical attention. They could also be a sign of epiglottis, which is an inflammation of the epiglottis—the tissue that covers the windpipe during swallowing. Epiglottis can be life-threatening for adults and children alike.
Any laryngitis lasting longer than three weeks is considered chronic. It is usually caused by frequent exposure to irritants, or excessive use of the vocal cords. It can cause permanent injury to the vocal cords, and the growth of polyps or nodules. Some common causes of chronic laryngitis include:
- Excessive exposure to chemical fumes, allergies or smoke
- Acid reflux
- Chronic sinusitis
- Long-term overuse of the voice (common in singers and cheerleaders)
- Smoking or excessive alcohol consumption
Nobody wants to have laryngitis, but it can be especially pernicious for certain people and professionals. If you’re concerned about laryngitis and want to avoid it, try to adhere to the following guidelines:
- Drink lots of water – Dehydration causes the mucus in your throat to be thicker than normal, making it more difficult to clear.
- Avoid spicy foods – Spicy foods can sometimes cause stomach acid to rise into the throat, leading to acid reflux which can significantly irritate the vocal cords.
- Eat healthy foods – Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains bring important vitamins (such as A, C and E) into your system that help keep your mucus membranes healthy.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine – Both diuretics, they reduce the total water content in your body.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke – Smoke dries and irritates your vocal cords. This applies to wood smoke as well as cigarette smoke.
- Avoid infections of the upper respiratory tract – Stay out of direct contact with people who are sick with a cold, and wash your hands frequently before touching your face or eating.
- Avoid clearing your throat – Clearing your throat increases the swelling that may already be causing trouble in your vocal cords. By further irritating them, it also causes your throat to generate more mucus which in turn makes you want to clear your throat again.
If you’re concerned that you or your loved one has chronic laryngitis or a potentially more serious condition, contact Specialty Physician Associates today to make an appointment with an ENT.