What is Laryngitis
Laryngitis is the medical term for inflammation of the larynx or voice box. The larynx is located where the mouth and trachea (breathing tube) meet. The epiglottis is a small flap that prevents food particles and saliva out of the larynx during swallowing. The larynx itself is actually cartilage that lines the inside of the trachea. The vocal folds (vocal cords) are attached to this cartilage and stretch across the trachea. The vocal folds are protected by mucus membranes.
When air from the lungs passes through the larynx and vocal cords, the cords vibrate against one another, and the muscles surrounding the voice box adjust to create different sounds.
When the larynx becomes inflamed, the result is a gravelly or hoarse voice, or even loss of sound altogether.
Symptoms and Causes of Laryngitis
There are two types of laryngitis: short-term and chronic (long-lasting). Short-term occurrences are usually acute (rather sudden) in onset, but will last about two weeks. Chronic cases can last more than three weeks. In most cases, symptoms are triggered by a viral infection of the upper airways or vocal strain.
Other causes include:
- croup (young children)
- a hoarse, bark-sounding cough (young children)
- viral upper respiratory tract infection including: runny nose, dry cough, loss of voice
- acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease - GERD)
- voice overuse
- irritation from airborne allergens or smoke
- viruses (measles, mumps)
- drinking alcohol
- direct injury to the larynx or vocal cords perhaps from coughing
- irritation of the vocal cords from polyps or nodules
- thyroid inflammation.
If there is no improvement in symptoms after two to three weeks, it is imperative to seek medical attention, as this may be an indication of something more serious than vocal strain or effects of the flu.
Available Treatment for Laryngitis
Acute or short-term laryngitis that results from a virus should improve on its own within 14 days. Treatment should be directed at allowing the vocal tissues an opportunity to heal. These include:
- resting your voice as much as possible
- drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated
- take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce swelling (will also address any accompanying fever or flu-like symptoms)
- avoid smoking and areas where others smoke
- take frequent hot baths or showers, or use a cool-mist humidifier
- avoid eating and drinking within two to three hours of going to bed to prevent onset of acid reflux
- sleep on a raised pillow to keep acid from coming up
- if acid reflux is a persistent problem seek medical attention and medication or other methods to control it
- avoid clearing your throat as that will only irritate the tissues more; swallow instead
- avoid foods and drinks that coat your throat (for example, milk or pop)
- voice therapy may be recommended to teach proper breathing and speaking techniques to reduce the stress on the larynx and vocal cords
Chronic laryngitis can also be addressed by using the methods above. If the condition does not improve with these methods, then further medical investigation may be necessary to determine the root cause and determine a course of treatment. Your doctor may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist or otolaryngologist for this purpose.
Sources: www.mayoclinic.com; www.emedicinehealth.com; www.webmd.com; www.netdoctor.co.uk; www.medicinenet.com