Laryngitis is swelling and irritation of the larynx (voice box). It causes hoarseness and, in some cases, voice loss. It can be acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting), but is usually the result of a temporary viral infection or vocal strain and clears up quickly. Persistent laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks could be a sign of a serious condition and should be evaluated by an ENT physician or laryngologist (ENT voice subspecialist). If you are a professional voice use (ex. singer, teacher, clergy, lecturer, receptionist, etc), you should seek attention sooner than that, as any resulting damage to the vocal cords from a laryngitis can significantly affect your career.
What Causes Laryngitis?
Your vocal cords, located inside the larynx, work by opening and closing, forming sounds when they vibrate. But when they become inflamed sounds are distorted, making your voice sound hoarse and – in some cases – indiscernible.
This can be caused by a number of factors including colds and viral infections, allergies, misuse of the voice, bacterial infections, acid reflux, sinus infections, vocal cord lesions and smoking.
What Are the Symptoms of Laryngitis?
Hoarseness is the main symptom associated with laryngitis. Your voice can take on a raspy or breathy quality, may be deeper than usual and can break or crack. Some people lose their voice altogether. In addition to hoarseness, you may experience a dry or sore throat, coughing and difficulty swallowing.
How Is Laryngitis Treated?
In general, keeping hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding alcohol and caffeine, which can lead to dehydration is a good start. A warm saltwater gargle several times a day can help relieve discomfort. Staying away from cigarettes, which can cause irritation and may worsen your condition, will also help. Resting your voice is a good idea too, as attempting to speak while suffering from laryngitis can result in permanent damage of your vocal cords.
Further treatment for stubborn laryngitis depends on what is causing your symptoms. To find this out, your ENT or laryngologist will perform:
- A complete history
- A complete physical exam of the head and neck region
- Videostroboscopy (a specialized scope used to assess the function of the vocal cords)
- Imaging/X-rays, when warranted
- Blood work/lab testing, when warranted
Treatment depends on the cause and may include medications, surgery, and/or voice therapy.