One of the most common conditions affecting the “voice box” or larynx, laryngitis in an inflammation of the vocal folds that can be acute or chronic in nature. While hoarseness is a common symptom, laryngitis can also develop as a result of an upper respiratory infection that can be viral or bacterial. It’s often highly treatable and does not usually require surgical intervention, although persistent laryngitis may be a sign of an underlying issue requiring additional attention and treatment considerations.
Acute and Chronic Laryngitis
Laryngitis can be acute and develop suddenly, often as a result of an infection. If symptoms persist for more than three weeks, it’s considered chronic. In rare instances, laryngitis is related to an autoimmune condition. Chronic laryngitis is sometimes caused by environmental factors such as polluted air or exposure to second-hand smoke. Vocal misuse and strain may also contribute to the development of laryngitis.
A typical symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness, occurring when the vocal folds become swollen and cannot vibrate properly to produce the desired sound. It’s not unusual to develop a sore throat in advance of experiencing of developing laryngitis. Additional symptoms may include:
- An urge to constantly clear the throat
- A “tickle” in the throat
- Cough (may be due to a related bronchial infection)
Diagnosis of laryngitis includes a review of a patient’s symptoms and history with throat problems. A procedure called a laryngoscopy is usually done to view the back of the throat and larynx with a special instrument called a laryngoscope. Evaluation may also include a stobosccopy, an examination of the vibrations of vocal folds with a bright flashing light. Snapshots of the vocal folds are taken to identify any abnormalities.
The initial treatment for laryngitis is resting the voice as much as possible to allow inflamed tissues to heal. Patients are often encouraged to stay hydrated and avoid foods that are excessively spicy or irritating to the throat while recovering. Pinpointing the source will determine what treatment to recommend. Bacterial infections causing laryngitis, for instance, are treated with antibiotics.
Patients may be observed for a short period of time to see if symptoms become increasingly severe quickly, as may be the case with a contagious infection. More common in children, throat swelling sometimes occurs with serious throat infections causing laryngitis. IV antibiotics are often administered and the patient may need a breathing tube. However, most cases of laryngitis are mild. Follow-up care may include short-term use of medication to prevent recurrence and resting the voice as much as possible as inflammation subsides.
As with other conditions affecting the throat, laryngitis shouldn’t be ignored, especially if symptoms are getting worse or lingering for several weeks. Since most cases of laryngitis are caused by a virus, washing hands to avoid transference may help reduce the risk of developing the condition, as can taking good care of your throat in general by avoiding smoking and excessive vocal strain.