What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx - the tube-like structure at the entrance of your windpipe (trachea). The Adam's apple represents where the larynx sticks out at the front of the throat.
The larynx contains two membranes - vocal cords - which vibrate as air passes between them. When someone develops laryngitis, these membranes become inflamed, and because they can no longer vibrate properly it causes hoarseness or loss of voice.
As well as loss of voice and hoarseness, laryngitis can also be associated with a sore throat, mild fever and headache.
Are there different types of laryngitis?
There are two main types of laryngitis:
- Acute laryngitis, where symptoms do not last longer than three weeks.
- Chronic laryngitis, where symptoms persist for longer than three weeks.
What causes laryngitis?
Acute laryngitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection, such as a cold or flu.
Another type of acute laryngitis is mechanical laryngitis. This can be caused by:
- Overusing or misusing your voice
- Excessive, singing, speaking or shouting
- Persistent coughing and throat clearing
- A throat injury
Chronic laryngitis can be caused by:
- Cigarette smoke
- Alcohol misuse
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease ( GORD) - a condition where acid leaks back up into the throat.
- An allergic reaction to dust, fumes, chemicals and toxins.
How is laryngitis diagnosed?
Most people who have laryngitis get well by themselves without the need for treatment.
A visit to a GP is usually only necessary in cases of chronic laryngitis (where symptoms have lasted for more than three weeks), where a patient has difficulty breathing, or in cases where there is a high fever and swollen glands. In such cases a GP might take a throat swab to check for fungal or bacterial infection.
In cases where no specific diagnosis can be made, a patient may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
How is laryngitis treated?
Acute laryngitis: Many cases of laryngitis are suitable for self-care at home. Resting the voice is particularly important. Other treatments may include:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen might ease some of the symptoms, such as sore throat, headache and fever.
- Many people find inhaling steam - such as from a hot bath or shower, or a cool mist humidifier - helps them feel better.
- Avoid smoking or breathing in other people's smoke.
Chronic laryngitis: Smokers should stop smoking. People who drink excessively should reduce their consumption as alcohol contains a number of impurities that can irritate the larynx.
There are a number of other ways that chronic laryngitis may be treated. For instance:
- If laryngitis is caused by GORD, additional treatment may be needed to control acid reflux from the stomach.
- If the symptoms are due to an allergic reaction, identifying and avoiding the specific substance that you are allergic to is one option. Antihistamines can be used to help control an allergic response.
- If symptoms are due to misusing or overusing your voice, a patient may be referred for vocal therapy which can help make changes to avoid further damaging the larynx.