Laryngitis is a condition where the larynx becomes inflamed due to infection. The larynx, also known as the voice box, is where the vocal cords are located and is a part of the respiratory system.
When someone has laryngitis, their vocal cords become inflamed, causing them to swell. Patients might experience a great deal of irritability, leading to their voice becoming hoarse. Sometimes they may be unable to speak altogether.
There are essentially two types of laryngitis which differ based on the causes and severity of the infection. They are as follows:
This is a form of temporary laryngitis that tends to go away once diagnosed and treated correctly. The common causes include bacterial infections, strain on one’s vocal cords due to overuse, and any type of viral infection, such as the common cold.
This condition lasts over three weeks. It is typically triggered by exposure to certain irritants over a certain period.
For instance, it can be caused by exposure to chemical fumes, smoke, and allergens that are inhaled over time.
It can also be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), i.e. acid reflux, which means that stomach acid repeatedly flows into the tube connecting the stomach and mouth.
Chronic sinusitis, too much consumption of alcohol, smoking, and overuse of one’s vocal cords are also potential causes.
Chronic laryngitis manifests by causing an undue strain on the vocal cords and the growth of polyps on the vocal cords. It often affects singers and those who speak a lot.
Laryngitis symptoms comprise a wide range of signs, which can overlap with some other respiratory diseases and disorders.
At times, it can be triggered by other viral or bacterial infections. Hence, it is best to get it diagnosed by a medical practitioner. Here are the common symptoms of laryngitis:
- The voice becomes very hoarse.
- The voice becomes very weak.
- Complete voice loss.
- The throat hurts when talking.
- The throat feels continually dry.
- Dry cough
- A sore throat
A range of lifestyle habits, exposure to certain substances, and existing infections can cause laryngitis:
- Viral infections
- Bacterial infections
- Overuse of the vocal cords, leading to strain and inflammation
- Bowing or curvature of the vocal cords
- Excessive smoking
- Inhalation of chemicals such as fumes, smoke, and allergens.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Chronic sinusitis
- Existence of laryngeal cancer.
- Nerve injury or disorders that results in paralysis of the vocal cords.
We examine patients’ vocal cords by conducting a series of tests to accurately diagnose the condition as follows:
- Laryngoscopy: In this procedure, we get a visual look at the patient’s vocal cords. It can be performed in two ways. We use a light and a mirror and examine the back of the throat. Alternatively, we do a fibre-optic laryngoscopy, a procedure that involves inserting an endoscope – a slim, flexible tube fitted with a camera – into the nose and mouth into the back of the throat. We then ask the patient to speak and simultaneously observe their vocal cords.
- Biopsy: We may extract tissue from the vocal cords and observe it under a microscope to diagnose the problem.
We provide care based on the diagnosis. Treatment can include antibiotics if it is a bacterial infection.
Corticosteroids may be recommended to reduce inflammation of the vocal cords, provided it needs to be cured quickly due to some additional condition.
Voice therapy may also be recommended. In some cases, surgery may be needed.
Patients’ vocal cords can be protected from laryngitis by practising good lifestyle habits as follows:
- Avoid smoking as it dries the throat, leading to irritation of the vocal cords. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well.
- Consume alcohol and caffeine in limited quantities as they trigger water loss.
- Consume plenty of healthy fluids, including water.
- Consume spicy food in moderation as it can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly referred to as heartburn.
- Be sure to include whole grains, fruit, and vegetables in the diet.
- Increase consumption of vitamins A, E, and C, which keep the mucous membranes in the throat region healthy.
- Clearing the throat too often can lead to dryness and excess secretion of mucous, which can result in irritation of the vocal cords.
- Avoid contact with those having viral infections such as the common cold.
Patients experiencing laryngitis symptoms must visit a medical practitioner and get the appropriate treatment. It can get progressively worse if not treated and lead to inflammation and other complications.
Since the symptoms overlap with other conditions, visiting an ENT specialist who can diagnose it accurately and offer the right treatment is crucial; this is a highly treatable condition.