Laryngitis

Last updated March 8, 2017

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What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Acute Laryngitis
  • Chronic Laryngitis
  • Voice Box Inflammation 

What is Laryngitis? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (also known as the voice box), often caused by irritation, infection, or overuse of the vocal cords
  • The condition specifically affects the vocal cords, which are two folds of mucous membranes within the larynx that cover muscle and cartilage. These vocal cords normally open and close smoothly, producing sounds through their vibrations
  • With Laryngitis, inflammation and swelling of the vocal cords alters the sounds formed, when air passes through, leading to hoarseness in the voice
  • Laryngitis may be acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting), but rarely causes any serious issues in adults. It is considered as the most common condition affecting the larynx
  • Passive treatment measures, such as resting one’s voice, staying well hydrated, avoiding dust pollutants or smoking, are normally sufficient to restore one’s voice. However, any underlying conditions or infections may have to be treated accordingly
  • Generally, the prognosis is excellent with suitable treatment; acute cases are normally self-limiting and last a couple of weeks, while chronic conditions may take longer to heal 

Who gets Laryngitis? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Any individual, male or female, from any age group may develop Laryngitis
  • Acute Laryngitis typically affects young adults, who are in their 3rd or 4th decade
  • Laryngitis in children can cause certain complications that may be serious 

What are the Risk Factors for Laryngitis? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors for Laryngitis are as follows:

  • Overusing one’s voice - speaking too much or too loudly, singing, or shouting
  • Having a respiratory infection, such as cold, influenza, bronchitis, or sinusitis
  • Exposure to substances that can irritate the larynx, including excessive alcohol intake, cigarette smoke, stomach acid, or chemicals

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider. 

What are the Causes of Laryngitis? (Etiology)

The causes of Acute Laryngitis and Chronic Laryngitis are as follows:

  • Acute Laryngitis: Acute type of Laryngitis occurs suddenly, but lasts only temporarily. Most cases of Acute Laryngitis are caused by one of the following conditions:
    • Viral infections, such as from the cold or flu viruses, which lead to inflammation of the vocal cords
    • Overuse of the voice, including talking or singing loudly or excessively
    • Bacterial infections, which occurs in rare cases
  • Chronic Laryngitis: This type of Laryngitis lasts for 3 or more weeks. Most cases of Chronic Laryngitis are caused by one of the following reasons:
    • Exposure to irritants, such as smoke, allergens, or chemical fumes
    • Heavy smoking
    • Excessive consumption of alcohol
    • Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
    • Repeated use of the voice, such as in singers and broadcasters, can lead to the growth of nodules (hard growths) or polyps (soft growths) on the vocal cords
    • Aging can cause loss of tension in the vocal cords
    • Paralysis of the vocal cord, such as from an injury or stroke
    • Bacterial or fungal infections
    • Cancer of the airways, such as cancer of larynx and cancer of bronchus (wind pipe) 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Laryngitis?

The signs and symptoms of Laryngitis may include the following:

  • Hoarseness
  • Voice loss
  • Tickling sensation in throat
  • Dry throat and sore throat
  • Dry cough

Children may experience different forms of Laryngitis, which if severe enough, can be dangerous and possibly life-threatening. These forms include:

  • Croup: This is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the larynx, leading to obstruction of breathing and a “barking cough”
  • Epiglottitis: Life-threatening condition characterized by inflammation of the tissue (called the epiglottis) covering the trachea or windpipe
  • Symptoms of these types of Laryngitis can include:
    • Noisy, high-pitched sounds while inhaling
    • Drooling more than usual
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Difficulty breathing 

How is Laryngitis Diagnosed?

Laryngitis is diagnosed as follows:

  • A physician may conduct a physical examination, including listening to your voice and asking about symptoms, such as voice hoarseness, dryness of throat, etc.
  • Evaluation of medical history
  • Blood tests to rule out any infections
  • Patients with Chronic Laryngitis may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician (otolaryngologist) to further examine the vocal cords and upper airway
  • Laryngoscopy: Examination of the vocal cords using a light and tiny mirror, to visually examine the throat

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. 

What are the possible Complications of Laryngitis?

The complications of Laryngitis could include:

  • Cases of Laryngitis caused by an infection may possibly lead to spread of infection to other regions of the respiratory tract
  • In rare cases, respiratory distress may occur that requires urgent medical care
  • Development of vocal cord polyps
  • If an individual uses their voice as a means for a career or living, like singers, broadcasters, attorneys, it may (temporarily) affect their career (and earning potential) 

How is Laryngitis Treated?

The treatment for Laryngitis is as follows:

  • Laryngitis is commonly caused by a virus, in which case antibiotics are most likely not helpful. But, where the infections are due to bacteria or fungus, antibiotics are beneficial
  • Resting your voice can reduce inflammation: While talking, speak softly, but do not whisper, as whispering can irritate the larynx even more. Also, avoid talking too loudly or yelling for too long
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Use a humidifier to help soothe the throat
  • Clearing one’s throat must be avoided
  • Avoid smoking
  • For Chronic Laryngitis, other treatments may be recommended by your physician to treat the underlying cause 

How can Laryngitis be Prevented?

Preventative measures that can be taken to avoid Laryngitis may include the following:

  • Avoid respiratory infections by washing your hands often
  • Avoid contact with individuals, who have upper respiratory infections, such as cold
  • Do not smoke, which can dry up your throat and lead to irritation; also, avoid secondhand smoke
  • Drink lots of water to keep the mucus in your throat thin
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Avoid clearing your throat
  • Stay away from places of smoke and dust, or from other chemicals that irritate the throat, as far as possible
  • If recommended by your healthcare provider, have your annual flu shots 

What is the Prognosis of Laryngitis? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

The prognosis of Laryngitis is as follows:

  • Cases of Acute Laryngitis usually go away on their own, within 2 weeks
  • Chronic Laryngitis will require treating the underlying cause to improve the condition 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Laryngitis:

  • A vocal cord nodule is a benign growth occurring either on one side or both sides in the vocal cords, located within the larynx. They are thought to develop due to vocal abuse (misuse or overuse of one’s voice), causing a trauma to the vocal cords (or vocal folds)

The following article link will help you understand vocal cord nodule.
http://www.dovemed.com/diseases-conditions/vocal-cord-nodules/

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

The Voice Foundation
219 N. Broad St. 10th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19107
Phone: (215) 735-7999
Fax: (215) 762-5572
Website: http://voicefoundation.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/laryngitis/DS00366 (accessed on 09/15/14)

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001385.htm (accessed on 09/15/14)

http://kidshealth.org/kid/ill_injure/sick/laryngitis.html# (accessed on 09/15/14)

http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/commonvoiceproblems.cfm (accessed on 09/15/14)

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/laryngitis-000099.htm (accessed on 09/15/14)

http://www.cigna.com/individualandfamilies/health-and-well-being/hw/medical-topics/laryngitis-ue5046.html (accessed on 09/15/14) 

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Bartke, B., Haderlein, T., Dollinger, M., Noth, E., Graf, S., Eysholdt, U., & Ziethe, A. (2013). [Perceptual and automatic voice and speech analysis of chronic laryngitis and T1 vocal cord cancer]. HNO, 61(8), 672-677. doi: 10.1007/s00106-013-2718-z

Hawkshaw, M. J., Pebdani, P., & Sataloff, R. T. (2013). Reflux laryngitis: an update, 2009-2012. J Voice, 27(4), 486-494. doi: 10.1016/j.jvoice.2013.03.001

Olleta, L., Sabban, J. C., & Orsi, M. (2013). [Recurrent laryngitis in child: evaluation with multichannel intraluminal impedance]. Acta Gastroenterol Latinoam, 43(1), 9-11.

Pendleton, H., Ahlner-Elmqvist, M., Jannert, M., & Ohlsson, B. (2013). Posterior laryngitis: a study of persisting symptoms and health-related quality of life. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol, 270(1), 187-195. doi: 10.1007/s00405-012-2116-2

Sinclair, C. F., & Sulica, L. (2013). Idiopathic ulcerative laryngitis causing midmembranous vocal fold granuloma. Laryngoscope, 123(2), 458-459. doi: 10.1002/lary.23520.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 20, 2014
Last updated: March 8, 2017

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