What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis is inflammation of the vocal cords.
When you speak, air passes through the voice box in your throat and hits the two bands called vocal cords. Your voice makes sounds when they vibrate. When your throat or vocal cords get inflamed, your vocal cords swell, which affects the way they vibrate. This may cause a hoarse voice or even complete loss of voice.
Acute laryngitis is the most common (40 %) cause of hoarseness of voice.
What causes laryngitis?
There are several causes of laryngitis:
- The common cold and other infections of the throat
- Vocal abuse-overuse of the muscles of the voice box leads to fatigue, strain and injury. Some common things that you may be doing wrong are speaking, singing, yelling or coughing too much
- Vocal misuse-use of the wrong technique like using a pitch higher or lower than normal when you talk or sing.
- Allergies-this may take a toll on your voice via:
- An allergic reaction can cause your vocal cords to swell.
- Postnasal drip — when mucus moves from your nose into your throat — can irritate your vocal cords.
- Coughing and clearing your throat can strain your vocal cords.
- Antihistamine drugs for allergies can dry out mucus in your throat. This may harm your vocal cords, which need moisture to work.
- Smoking or drinking too much-smoke irritates the vocal cords.
- Breathing in harsh chemicals-like petrol or fumes.
- Acid reflux-reflux is when acid contents from your stomach leak up into your throat.
Are there other causes of hoarseness of voice?
There are also medical problems besides laryngitis that can make your voice hoarse or make you lose your voice. For example, people can have these symptoms because of:
- Abnormal growths on the vocal cords (such as polyps, singers nodules)
- Muscle disorders affecting the voice box (such as spasmodic dysphonia)
- Nerve disorder affecting the voice box (such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinsonism)
- Thyroid disorders
- Thyroid and other head and neck surgeries
- Cancer of the throat
How can I get rid of laryngitis?
Depending on the cause, there are several measures you can take to improve the laryngitis.
- Voice rest and gentle voice use if the cause is vocal abuse.
- Voice therapy and retraining if the genesis is vocal misuse
- Reduction or elimination of alcohol and smoking if cigarettes and alcohol is the culprit.
- Avoid the irritant chemicals, use a fan or wear a mask if the cause is inhalation of chemicals.
- Reduction of acid reflux if LPR or GERD has been diagnosed. This steps help:
- Take medicines for acid reflux, if the ENT doctor recommends them.
- Avoid foods that make your symptoms worse. (Common examples include alcohol, coffee, and chocolate.)
- Stop smoking, if you smoke.
- Eat many small meals each day, rather than 2 or 3 big meals.
- Do not lie down for at least 3 hours after finishing a meal.
How is laryngitis treated?
That depends on what is causing it. If your laryngitis is caused by a cold or other minor infection, you might not need treatment. If you do not get better in 2 weeks, there might be something else causing your hoarseness. Other causes of laryngitis are treated on a case-by-case basis
Do I need antibiotics to treat laryngitis?
Routing antibiotics prescription is discouraged and is only used in special circumstances like bacterial super infection or TB of the voice box.
What are the danger signs?
Contact the ENT doctor or visit the accident and emergency department immediately if any of the following occur:
- Have trouble breathing
- Are drooling because you cannot swallow your saliva
- Have swelling of the neck or tongue
- Cannot move your neck or have trouble opening your mouth
Self-assessment of the voice
The content on the Nairobi ENT website is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.
- Schwartz, Seth R., et al. “Clinical practice guideline: hoarseness (dysphonia).” Otolaryngology-head and neck surgery3 (2009): S1-S31.
- Reiter, Rudolf, et al. “Hoarseness—causes and treatments.” Deutsches Ärzteblatt International19 (2015): 329.
- Cohen, Seth M., et al. “Prescribing patterns of primary care physicians and otolaryngologists in the management of laryngeal disorders.” Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery1 (2013): 118-125.