What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis refers to swelling and inflammation of the larynx (voice box). The larynx consists of vocal cords that vibrate to produce sounds. In this, these vocal cords get inflamed, irritated, and swollen, leading to partial or complete loss of voice.
Is laryngitis a medical emergency?
Laryngitis is not a medical emergency.
Types of laryngitis
Laryngitis is of two types:
Acute laryngitis: This type is caused due to viral or bacterial infection and lasts for a few days.
Chronic laryngitis: This type lasts longer than three weeks and is generally caused due to long-term exposure to irritants.
Causes of laryngitis
Causes of acute laryngitis include the following:
- Overuse of the voice
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
Causes of chronic laryngitis include the following:
- Inhalation of irritants like allergens, dust, smoke, and chemical fumes
- Acid reflux disease
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
- Abnormal growths like polyps or nodules on the vocal cords
- Sinus disease
Risk factors for laryngitis
Factors that influence the development of infection include:
- Overuse of voice like shouting, singing, or speaking for a longer period
- Respiratory infections
- Cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption
- Exposure to workplace chemicals, fumes, dust, or other allergens
Signs & symptoms of laryngitis
Signs and symptoms of infection include the following:
- Hoarse voice
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Trouble swallowing
- Weak voice or loss of voice
The first sign of infection is the change in voice. Voice loss can be mild or severe. Apart from physical examination, other investigations done to diagnose are:
This procedure is performed to:
- Visualize the larynx
- Examine the laryngeal tissues for any redness or swelling
- Examine the motion of the vocal folds
- Rule out any dilated blood vessels
- Rule out any secretions between the vocal folds and surrounding tissues
Laryngeal biopsy: On noticing a suspicious area, a sample tissue from the larynx is collected to rule out any abnormality.
Diagnosis of laryngitis
A diagnosis of infection is made based on medical history, clinical evaluation, and the results of the investigations done.
Treatment options for laryngitis
Treatment of laryngitis depends upon the severity of the symptoms and the underlying cause of the condition. In the majority of cases, infection requires no specific treatment. Acute laryngitis resolves on its own within a couple of weeks. Chronic laryngitis can be cured by treating the underlying cause.
A. Medical treatment
Medical treatment for this infection depends on the cause and may include the following:
- Viral laryngitis: Treatment includes pain medications, mucolytics for cough, and vocal rest
- Bacterial laryngitis: Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infection. In severe cases, corticosteroids, intravenous antibiotics, humidification, and nebulized adrenaline are used
- Fungal laryngitis: Oral antifungal tablets and antifungal solutions are used
- Laryngitis due to overuse: Treatment includes voice rest, keeping the throat moist with sips of warm water, drinking plenty of fluids, smoking cessation, and other vocal hygiene measures
- Laryngitis caused due to other medical conditions: Treatment is caused due to acid reflux, inflammatory, or autoimmune diseases, which involves treating these underlying medical conditions
B. Role of diet/exercise/lifestyle changes/preventive measures
In most of the instances, the infection resolves with vocal hygiene measures. They include:
- Providing rest to the voice
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Keeping the throat moist by consuming intermittent sips of liquids
- Avoiding cigarette smoking, alcohol, and caffeine
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Avoiding whispering
- Consuming hot tea or honey
- Avoiding clearing the throat frequently
A few measures to prevent irritation of the vocal cords and recurrence of infection include the following:
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Avoiding smoking
- Avoiding exposure to irritants
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Avoiding overuse of the voice
- Washing hands frequently
- A consuming diet rich in vitamins A, E, and C
- Drinking plenty of water to keep the throat moist
Although it does not cause serious problems, in a few instances, it can lead to the following complications:
- Voice loss
- Chronic cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Laryngeal stenosis
- Infection can spread to other parts of the respiratory tract
The prognosis of laryngitis depends upon the cause of the condition. Acute laryngitis resolves within a couple of weeks, while chronic laryngitis takes a longer time to resolve. Nevertheless, the overall prognosis is good.
When to contact the doctor/how to identify the complications?
Medical consultation is required after noticing the following:
- Persistent symptoms for more than two weeks
- Trouble swallowing and trouble breathing
- Ear pain
- Having any recent neck surgery or radiotherapy to the neck region
Indications for hospitalization if required
In most of the cases, laryngitis subsides within a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, if hoarseness persists and is seen associated with fever or coughing up of blood, hospitalization may be warranted for appropriate care and management.
Suggested clinical specialists/departments to consult for this condition
- Otorhinolaryngology (ENT)