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Laryngitis occurs when your voice box or vocal cords become inflamed from overuse, irritation, or infection. Laryngitis can be acute (short-term), lasting less than three weeks. Or it can be chronic (long-term), lasting more than three weeks.
Many conditions can cause the inflammation that results in laryngitis. Viral infections, environmental factors, and bacterial infections can all cause laryngitis.
Acute laryngitis is a temporary condition caused by overusing the vocal cords. It can also be caused by an infection. Treating the underlying condition causes the laryngitis to go away. Acute laryngitis can be caused by:
Chronic laryngitis results from long-term exposure to irritants. It’s usually more severe and has longer-lasting effects than acute laryngitis.
Chronic laryngitis can be caused by:
The most common symptoms of laryngitis include:
These symptoms are usually mild and can be treated by giving your voice a break. Drinking water or other noncaffeinated fluids can help lubricate your throat.
Infants and children can be prone to laryngitis if they’re frequently around other children. Both viral and bacterial infections can spread quickly from child to child. Laryngitis can also develop if your child yells or sings a lot. This causes bumps to form on their vocal cords.
If you notice your child’s voice is hoarse or weak or they say that their throat hurts, make sure they rest their voice. Also, have them drink fluids to ease possible viral laryngitis. Laryngitis usually goes away within two weeks.
If your child’s symptoms don’t improve or become worse, take them to a doctor. A doctor can determine if other factors are causing the laryngitis or if antibiotics for a bacterial infection are needed.
Certain symptoms could also indicate your child has a serious bacterial infection around the voice box, called the epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap of tissue that covers the larynx (voice box) and trachea (breathing tube) when you eat or drink. It keeps food particles and liquid out of your lungs.
Epiglottitis is an infection of the epiglottis and the tissue around it. During epiglottitis, tissue swells to the point that it can close off the windpipe.
Epiglottitis can be fatal if not treated. See a doctor right away if your child has:
Typically, your child will require a hospital stay to receive treatment. Your child will be given IV antibiotics and often glucocorticoids or dexamethasone.
Epiglottitis mostly affects children ages 2 to 6 years old. But a child of any age, or adult, can be affected. The Hib vaccine protects children from the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae type b. The vaccine has helped reduce the number of cases of epiglottitis caused by these bacteria.
You could also have common symptoms that mean you have a condition similar to laryngitis, including:
Some symptoms can be serious or indicate underlying issues. These symptoms include:
See your doctor if common symptoms don’t clear up after a week, or they worsen.
Laryngitis affects your vocal cords and voice box. Your doctor often starts with a visual diagnosis, using a special mirror to view your vocal cords. They might also perform a laryngoscopy to magnify the voice box for easy viewing. During a laryngoscopy, your doctor sticks a thin, flexible tube with a microscopic camera through your mouth or nose. Your doctor then looks for the following signs of laryngitis:
If a virus has caused acute laryngitis, symptoms usually disappear without treatment within seven days. Doctors treat bacterial laryngitis with antibiotics, although this form of laryngitis is rare.
Your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids, medicines that can reduce inflammation, to treat both acute and chronic laryngitis.
These treatments help reduce vocal cord and voice box swelling. Corticosteroids can treat and relieve symptoms of laryngitis, especially acute viral laryngitis. For chronic laryngitis, the best treatment will address the cause of the underlying problem.
Like acute laryngitis, other conditions such as dysphonia or vocal cord paralysis can be treated with rest, vocal therapy provided by a speech pathologist, or minor procedures.
In the case of vocal fold paralysis, treatment can include phonosurgery. Phonosurgery changes the vocal cords’ position or shape to lessen the tension caused by the voice.
In rare cases, vocal cord inflammation can cause respiratory distress, which requires immediate medical attention.
A bacterial infection causing epiglottitis can also spread beyond the epiglottis and larynx to other areas in your respiratory tract and into your blood stream. If you have a bacterial infection, follow your doctor’s treatment plan closely to stop the infection from spreading.
If an underlying condition like vocal cord paralysis or throat cancer is causing your laryngitis, complications can be severe if the condition isn’t treated. Vocal cord paralysis can cause trouble breathing and swallowing. Food can also get into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia.
Advanced throat cancer can be fatal or require surgery or chemotherapy. See your doctor if your laryngitis symptoms are affecting your ability to eat, speak, or breathe, or if they’re causing you intense pain. The earlier you address serious laryngitis symptoms, the more likely your doctor can treat possible underlying conditions.
The best way to keep your vocal cords and voice box healthy is to keep them moist and free from irritants.
To avoid common irritants:
In addition, try to avoid clearing your throat. This increases inflammation and irritation.
Written by: Shannon Johnson and Tim Jewell
Medically reviewed on: Aug 16, 2017: Shuvani Sanyal, MD
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