Laryngitis

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx. The larynx, or voice box, is the structure between the pharynx and trachea that contains the vocal chords.

Causes

Causes of laryngitis include:

  • Viral infection (most common)
  • Overuse of the vocal chords
  • Exposure to irritating substances (cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol consumption, gastric acid)

And more rarely:

  • Bacterial or fungal infection
  • Cancer

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of laryngitis are:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Temporary loss of voice
  • Tickling in the throat
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever

The signs and symptoms associated with laryngitis generally disappear on their own and do not require any specific treatment. However, if any of the following conditions occur, it is recommended that you see your doctor:

  • If your child has trouble breathing
  • If your child has trouble swallowing
  • Fever higher than 39oC
  • If your child is under 3 months old and has a hoarse voice
  • Hoarse voice that lasts more than one week in a child or more than two weeks in an adult

Diagnosis

A simple physical examination is usually enough to diagnose laryngitis. However, patients with chronic hoarseness, especially smokers, should see an ear, nose and throat doctor (otorhinolaryngologist or ENT specialist). To rule out cancer, the specialist will conduct a throat examination called a laryngoscopy. This involves inserting a tiny mirror or flexible scope through the nose to take a closer look at the larynx.

Treatment

Resting your voice will, first and foremost, help reduce inflammation. Avoid clearing your throat and whispering as this can increase the swelling. A humidifier may help alleviate the pain of a sore throat. It is also important to treat the underlying causes. Pain medication may be useful in helping relieve symptoms caused by an inflamed larynx. In some cases, corticosteroids can reduce swelling of the vocal chords. If the laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.

Prevention

To prevent irritating your larynx, drink plenty of water and avoid clearing your throat. Also, quitting smoking would be ideal. Frequent hand washing is recommended to avoid upper respiratory infections that could lead to laryngitis.

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