What is Laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box or larynx that causes the voice to become hoarse or raspy and can even lead to the temporary loss of voice because of irritation to the vocal chords.  The inflammation is usually caused by a virus.

Laryngitis is most commonly caused by colds or the flu but may also be caused by acid reflux, overusing the voice via cheering at sporting events, irritation from smoke or allergies, and inhaling steroid medicines. Chronic laryngitis may be caused by sores, nerve damage, cancer, polyps, or thick and hard lumps (nodules) on the vocal chords.

What are the Symptoms of Laryngitis?

Symptoms include: dry, sore, burning throat; fever, shortness of breath, dysphagia (problems swallowing), swollen lymph nodes in the throat, chest, or face; increased production of saliva, coughing, coughing up blood, and runny nose.

Laryngitis Causes

Laryngitis is usually caused by viral infections which lead to inflammation of the larynx. Cold and flu tend to be the most common infections, however, it’s also possible for bacterial infections, like diphtheria, and fungal infections, like thrush, to cause laryngitis too. No matter whether it’s a virus, bacteria or fungus which is to blame, any infection of the larynx is known as infectious laryngitis.

Sometimes laryngitis is caused by straining of the vocal chords. For example, speaking, singing or shouting louder or longer than usual might damage the surface of the vocal chords, causing inflammation. This is known as mechanical laryngitis, and it can also be caused by persistent coughing or clearing of the throat, or direct trauma to the throat which harms the larynx.

Finally, sometimes the larynx can become inflamed by other causes. Smoking can dry out and irritate the larynx, as can excessive alcohol consumption. People with chronic acid reflex or GERD may also develop laryngitis due to stomach acid causing irritation to the larynx. Certain irritating substances, like dust, fumes, toxins or chemicals, might also cause laryngitis.

How is Laryngitis Treated?

Involves resting the voice as much as possible, speaking softly if you have to talk, avoiding clearing the throat, adding moisture to the air in your home with a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding the use of decongestants. It’s also very important to avoid whispering because this may irritate the larynx even more.

Quitting smoking and avoiding the use of alcohol and caffeine can also help. Surgery may be required in situations where there has been damage to the vocal chords due to the formation of polyps or nodules. Antibiotics are prescribed for laryngitis that is caused by bacterial infection.

Laryngitis Prevention

Laryngitis may be prevented by adjusting certain lifestyle factors. Firstly, those who smoke should quit, and those who are exposed to lots of secondhand smoke should try to avoid it where possible.

People who suffer from frequent acid reflex or GERD should try to get their condition under control. They should avoid foods which tend to trigger it, and be careful not to eat too close to bedtime as lying down can worsen reflux.

People who use their voice regularly should try to rest it wherever possible. For example, singers should try to limit the amount they talk in between performances in order to avoid straining the vocal chords.

Finally, to avoid infectious laryngitis, you should adopt good hygiene practices. Wash hands regularly, particularly when around people with colds, the flu or other respiratory infections. Avoid putting your hands to your mouth unless they have recently been washed to avoid contracting infections from contaminated surfaces that you may have touched.