An Overview of Laryngitis

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Laryngitis is inflammation of your larynx—also called your voice box—from irritation, overuse, or infection. About two inches in length and located at the top of your windpipe (airway), your larynx contains your vocal cords and plays a role when you talk, breathe, or swallow.

Composed of two folds of mucous membrane wrapped around cartilage and muscle, your vocal cords normally form sounds by smoothly opening and closing as well as vibrating.

Inflammation or irritation from laryngitis causes your vocal cords to swell and distorts the sounds that air carries over them, making your voice sound hoarse.

If the swelling is severe, you may not be able to make your voice heard at all, a condition called aphonia, but most people describe this as "losing" their voice. Most often due to vocal strain or a viral infection, laryngitis isn’t usually serious. However, hoarseness that doesn’t go away, even after treatment, could be a symptom of a more serious disease or disorder and should be reported to your doctor.

laryngitis treatment
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell​

Symptoms

There are several common symptoms of laryngitis aside from hoarseness, including a lowered voice or loss of your voice, and feeling a constant need to clear your throat. If an infection is the cause of your laryngitis, symptoms may include fever, malaise (generalized feeling of discomfort or illness), and swollen lymph nodes.

Causes

Laryngitis that lasts less than a few weeks is called acute laryngitis and is often associated with an upper respiratory infection caused by a viral infection. Laryngitis from bacterial infection is rare. Long-term or chronic laryngitis is laryngitis lasting longer than 3 weeks. If you don't have an idea of what has caused your laryngitis or if it lasts longer than a few weeks you should see a doctor to determine the underlying cause, which may include:

Diagnosis

Laryngitis usually gets better on its own. If you need to see your doctor about your symptoms, he or she will most likely base the diagnosis on your specific set of symptoms and your medical history. A physical examination may reveal things like swollen glands. If necessary, your doctor may also look at your larynx with a special mirror or an endoscope. You’re more likely to undergo endoscopy if you’ve had laryngitis longer than a few weeks.

Your doctor will want to view your larynx directly to check for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as a tumor or tuberculosis infection.

Treatment

One of the best ways to treat laryngitis, and certainly the simplest, is not talking at all. It can be frustrating to not speak, but it really is the best means of treating your laryngitis. If necessary, you can communicate by writing.

Contrary to popular belief, whispering does not rest your voice. In fact, it can actually agitate your vocal cords and make your hoarseness worse.

Of course, if you have chronic laryngitis, identifying the underlying cause of your symptoms is the first step in identifying the best treatment for you. Treatment may include:

Antibiotics

As you may know, antibiotics are only effective against infections caused by bacteria. Since almost all infections with laryngitis are caused by viruses, it makes sense that your doctor wouldn’t prescribe an antibiotic for you, at least at first. If you don’t start feeling better within a reasonable time, however, you may have one of the rare cases where bacteria are the cause, and taking an antibiotic may be indicated.

There’s another reason why doctors are more cautious about prescribing antibiotics these days: overuse of antibiotics has contributed to the evolution of so-called “super bugs," which refers to bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. Healthcare professionals are hoping to slow that trend by giving patients antibiotics only when they are clearly required.

A Word From Verywell

Laryngitis is a condition that usually goes away on its own. However, if you find that your symptoms are persisting, contact your doctor. If you have laryngitis, avoid doing anything that could worsen the condition such as speaking and smoking.

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Article Sources
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