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Laryngitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention and Home Remedies

Laryngitis is inflammation of larynx or voice box (that includes vocal cords). Inflammation of larynx may be due to infection (most commonly viral infection), overuse or irritation. Vocal cords are folds of mucous membrane covering muscles and cartilages. When you speak vocal cords open and close smoothly when air passes through them. However, in laryngitis the vocal cords may become edematous due to inflammation (from any cause such as infection, overuse or irritation) and this lead to distortion of sound that is produced by vocal cords. Usually voice becomes hoarse and sometimes even the voice may become undetectable. Majority of cases of laryngitis are not serious and recover by itself if vocal cord is rested. However, persistent hoarseness of voice or laryngitis can indicate serious underlying medical condition.

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

Symptoms of laryngitis may last only for few days to few weeks (acute laryngitis) and usually due to viral infection and/or irritation or they may be persistent due to some underlying medical condition. The symptoms of laryngitis include,

  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Voice may be feeble and even undetectable and temporary loss of voice
  • Irritation or tickling sensation
  • Sore throat
  • Dryness of throat and dry cough

What are the causes of laryngitis?

Laryngitis is generally not serious, although sometimes may be persistent and may indicate serious underlying condition. The causes include,

  • Viral infection is common cause of laryngitis. Viruses that cause common cold can also cause laryngitis.
  • Overuse of vocal cords in some professions such as teachers, singers, or due to overuse of voice
  • Bacterial infections, e.g. diphtheria, although rare these days due to vaccination.
  • Fungal infection, although rare.
  • Chronic irritation causes chronic laryngitis that lasts more than three weeks, such as smoking, allergen, chemical fumes, acid reflux (GERD), chronic sinusitis (leading to chronic post nasal drip), excessive alcohol abuse, excess use of vocal cord regularly, injury or growth (such as polyp, nodule) in vocal cord etc.
  • Cancer of vocal cord
  • Vocal cord paralysis due to cerebral stroke

Some people are at greater risk of developing laryngitis, such as people who use vocal cords excessively such as singers, teachers or any other person who need to use vocal cords excessively, persons with chronic sinusitis, bronchitis, chronic cold, chronic smoking, alcohol abusers, and patients with GERD etc.

Diagnosis of laryngitis:

Diagnosis of laryngitis is not difficult, because symptoms help the diagnosis easily. However, your doctor (otorhinolaryngologist) may ask for certain tests such as laryngoscopy, biopsy etc.

Laryngoscopy: your doctor directly visualizes your vocal cords using a laryngoscope and light. Your doctor can see if vocal cords are swollen, red or any covering is there. By visualizing voice box directly, the possible cause may be identified. Fiber-optic laryngoscope is a flexible tube which is inserted to directly see the larynx. It is possible to see vocal cords movement during your speech.

Biopsy: if there is any suspicious area found during laryngoscopy your doctor may take a sample of it and examined under microscope, to find out if it is due to tumor.

Treatment of laryngitis:

Majority of cases of laryngitis recover on its own within few weeks. Self care measures at home are usually adequate in most cases. However, chronic laryngitis may require treatment, especially the underlying cause need to be treated.

Medications used for treatment of laryngitis include antibiotics, corticosteroids etc.

Corticosteroids: these drugs can reduce inflammation (whatever may be the cause of inflammation). Corticosteroids are usually used only if you need to treat your laryngitis urgently, e.g. for a singer or if you have to give a speech/oral presentation etc. These should not be used randomly for every cases of laryngitis.

Antibiotics: in most cases infection is due to virus and antibiotics are of no use in such cases. However, if it is due to bacteria, antibiotics can be of great use in treating laryngitis.

Prevention and home remedies for laryngitis:

Following measures can help in preventing as well as providing relief in laryngitis,

  • Drink plenty of liquid (water). Keep hydrated, which helps in keeping mucus thin and make it easy to expel.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine as these may lead to dehydration.
  • Avoid smoking as well as passive or second hand smoking. Smoking irritates larynx and can aggravate the symptoms.
  • Avoid spicy foods as well as avid eating excess food. It is important to prevent GERD and heart burn.
  • Avoid upper respiratory infection as far as practicable. Avoid people or avoid contact with people suffering from cold and other respiratory problems.
  • Avoid clearing your throat, as it will end up irritating the throat more, instead of clearing it. Avoid foods and irritants that can irritate throat.
  • Eat balanced and healthy diet containing lots of fruits, grains, vegetables and fiber as well as vitamins and minerals.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible. Avoid speaking loudly and for long time. If you have to speak in front of a group of people, use microphone.
  • Do not whisper. Because whispering put more strain on your vocal cords than normal speaking and thereby worsen the condition, contrary to popular belief.
  • Breath moist air and for this use humidifier at your room/office, where you spent lot of time. Inhale steam from a bowl.
  • Avoid decongestants as these may lead to dryness of your throat.
  • Keep your throat moist by chewing gums and sucking lozenges.

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