Laryngitis is a common illness that affects the voice box or larynx. When the area surrounding the larynx becomes irritated, swollen or inflamed, you are said to suffer from laryngitis. The vocal chords get swollen and the voice sounds distorted and hoarse. Some people experience complete voice loss for a few days or are able to speak merely in whispers.
Laryngitis symptoms often accompany cold or other viral infections. It usually gets cured by itself. In children, laryngitis can cause complications such as croup when the throat swells, airways narrow and the child suffers from a ‘barking’ cough. Chronically hoarse voice could be a sign of other serious illnesses and must not be ignored.
Excessive use of the voice box by professionals such as teachers, singers or public speakers can be another cause of laryngitis. Allergic reactions and irritants such as cigarette smoke can cause acute laryngitis. Patients with bulimia who keep vomiting frequently or those who have gastroesophageal reflux can develop laryngitis symptoms.
Diphtheria, which is a bacterial infection, can also cause laryngitis – although these cases are rare. Some other causes of chronic laryngitis are chronic sinusitis, excessive consumption of alcohol, inhaling irritants like chemical fumes, smoke or allergens, cancer, vocal chord paralysis that can be due to a lung tumor or stroke, fungal infections, infections from some parasites and vocal chords bowing due to age.
Symptoms of Laryngitis
Laryngitis symptoms can occur suddenly and worsen over a period of 2-3 days. After this the symptoms often reduce unless they are due to chronic laryngitis. Most people get over laryngitis within a week.
Common symptoms are:
- Hoarse voice where the voice does not sound normal
- Sore throat accompanied by pain and difficulty in swallowing
- Difficulty in speaking – sometimes you will lose your voice entirely or be able to articulate only in whispers or a croak. This can get worse before it becomes better and it happens since the larynx is inflamed and swollen.
- Mild fever – this could also be due to the fact you have a cold and cough
- Headache – again a symptom of laryngitis, cold and cough or other viral infections of the throat
- Irritating and dry cough
- A constant urge to keep clearing the throat
- Other symptoms due to accompanying cold, flu or tonsillitis include runny nose, swollen neck glands and a general feeling of tiredness, body ache and fatigue.
Chronic laryngitis can cause permanent damage to the voice box and a lasting hoarseness. This happens mainly in those who overuse their voice. Sometimes young children with laryngitis will suffer from breathing difficulties due to a swollen larynx.
What to do?
Laryngitis symptoms are self-limiting and get better without the need for any medical intervention. Still sometimes, you need to contact your doctor when you or your child experience breathing difficulties, symptoms last more than 3 weeks or serious infections like swollen neck glands or high temperature are present.
Treatment of Laryngitis
Diagnosis of this illness is based on the symptoms. Sometimes a laryngoscopy will be suggested for those suffering from laryngitis for more than 3 weeks. Treatment is usually symptomatic and includes steam inhalation, cough suppressants and patients are advised to completely rest their voice. Specific medications will be prescribed for those who have laryngitis due to bulimia, gatroesophageal reflux or laryngitis brought on by drugs. Smokers with acute laryngitis and bronchitis will be advised to stop smoking.
Other non-conventional treatments are simple and very effective for laryngitis symptoms. Honey and warm herbal tea can soothe a sore and irritated throat. Zinc lozenges also help to ease an aching throat.
Many herbs can provide relief for laryngitis, cold, coughs and even flu. Eucalyptus is a time honored remedy for cough and irritation of the throat. It is available as soothing vapor baths, lozenges and cough syrups. Use fresh eucalyptus leaves in warm tea or add it to warm water as a throat gargle and get instant relief. Other beneficial herbs are licorice, marshmallow, peppermint, chamomile, slippery elm, sage and blackberry.
Homeopathy is also said to have several effective remedies for laryngitis symptoms. Make sure you consult a professional before taking any form of medication. Herbal oils like eucalyptus and peppermint oil must never be taken orally for they can be dangerous.
Children suffer from complications of laryngitis, like croup that causes a constriction of airways and produces a ‘barking’ cough or an inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis). The latter causes the windpipe to swell and the child has difficulty in breathing.
In extreme cases, your ENT doctor will recommend further tests such as a CT scan, MRI scan or a biopsy. All these tests are done when the doctor suspects the patient is suffering from symptoms of laryngeal cancer. Chest X-ray could be suggested to check for abnormalities or a skin allergy test.
Laryngitis : Prevention and Precaution
Many preventive measures can be adopted to prevent laryngitis symptoms. Follow personal hygiene like washing hands before and after using the toilet or eating. Avoid those who have viral infections accompanied by laryngitis. Avoid smoking if you have respiratory illnesses. Try not to clear the throat too often when you have laryngitis, instead try swallowing. Keep your head in a raised position when sleeping. This prevents persistent cough and acid reflux.
Professional singers or those who use their voice excessively in their profession must get the right training on the best way to use their voice so that the larynx is not overused and worn out.
To clear laryngitis symptoms, use a humidifier and keep the air in your surroundings moist. Use steam inhalations and hot showers several times a day. Rest your voice and avoid speaking or singing for long periods. To avoid dehydration, do not drink caffeine or alcohol but consume other fluids frequently. Gargle with salt water, chew gum or suck lozenges to prevent the throat from drying up. Avoid decongestants that can dry the throat. Try to avoid even whispering that can strain the throat sometimes even more than talking with a normal voice.
There are certain foods that you can avoid when you suffer from laryngitis. Acidic foods like lemons, pineapples, tomato-based products and oranges all cause excessive acid reflux and aggravate laryngitis symptoms. Spicy foods like hot curries, pepper and hot sauces can aggravate the larynx and lengthen the time taken for laryngitis to heal. Chocolate contains caffeine and causes acid reflux when you have laryngitis. Alcoholic beverages burn the throat and worsen laryngitis symptoms. Wait for your symptoms to completely clear before indulging in these foods again.