Laryngitis is an inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the larynx (voice box), which is located in the upper part of the respiratory tract.
It causes hoarseness, and possibly a temporary loss of speech.
Laryngitis, an inflammation of the larynx, occurs in two forms. Acute, which lasts only a few days; and chronic, which persists over a period of weeks or months.
The most common symptom of either form is hoarseness that may, within several days, progress to partial or total loss of voice. Fever, sore throat, and swallowing difficulty may occur as well.
Children face the added risk of encountering breathing difficulty, because the opening of a child's larynx is narrow to begin with, and inflammation restricts the air passages even further.
Laryngitis may result from prolonged straining of the voice. It also may occur as an isolated local infection of the larynx as part of another, more serious underlying disorder, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. In most cases, however, it is a minor ailment and clears up on its own within a few days or weeks.
Acute laryngitis may result from excessive strain on the vocal cords, as occurs with activities such as yelling, cheering, singing, or public speaking.
Postnasal drip, allergies, or inhalation of smoke fumes, or caustic chemicals can irritate the larynx and cause inflammation.
Chronic laryngitis may be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or constant exposure to dust or chemical irritants like paint remover.
Chronic upper respiratory tract disorders such as sinusitis, bronchitis, nasal polyps, and allergies can cause chronic laryngitis.
Repeated episodes of acute laryngitis may eventually lead to chronic laryngitis.
Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) may ulcerate the larynx.
The major symptoms of laryngitis are:
- Sore throat
- Weak or absent voice
- Sensation of a lump in the throat or constant need to clear the throat
- Dry cough
Diagnosis is based upon a combination of the clinical history and a physical exam. Some physicians might wish to do a laryngoscopy (visualization of the vocal cords).
If laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be prescribed.
Some palliative measures that can be taken include:
- Avoid public speaking during recovery
- Be aware that whispering puts greater strain on the vocal cords than normal speaking
- Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water or from a warm shower
- Drink warm, soothing liquids (but do not drink alcoholic beverages)
- Try a cool-mist humidifier; avoid air conditioning
- Use nonprescription pain relievers and throat lozenges to ease the discomfort
- Avoid cigarettes until the symptoms have subsided
Above all, make sure that the underlying cause of chronic laryngitis has been diagnosed and treated.