Don’t be surprised if you lose your voice and have sore throat the morning after you attend a wild rock concert with your friends. You might be suffering from laryngitis, the inflammation of the mucous membrane that lines your larynx or voice box. Your voice will likely be hoarse for a few days, but it will soon clear up after some rest and medication.
Causes of Laryngitis
There are two types of laryngitis: acute and chronic. Acute laryngitis lasts only for a few days, while chronic laryngitis persists for weeks or months. Here are the common causes of laryngitis:
Acute laryngitis: Viral infections responsible for colds commonly cause laryngitis. Some people with mumps and measles also develop laryngitis. In addition, laryngitis may result from bacterial infections like diphtheria, although this is quite rare. You may also develop the condition because of vocal strain, which occurs when you shout or use your voice too much.
Chronic laryngitis: Your doctor will diagnose chronic laryngitis if the condition persists for more than three weeks. Chronic laryngitis may result from repeated exposure to irritants such as smoke, allergens, and chemical fumes. People who use their voice too much, like singers and cheerleaders, are in greater risk of developing chronic laryngitis. Other causes of chronic laryngitis include alcohol abuse, chronic sinusitis, and acid reflux. Without treatment, injuries and growths like nodules or polyps may form on the vocal cords of the patient.
Fungal and bacterial infections rarely cause chronic laryngitis. It’s also not common for cancer to have chronic laryngitis as its symptom. Another less common cause is vocal cord paralysis, which results from injury or health conditions like lung tumors and stroke.
Symptoms of Laryngitis
Consult your doctor immediately if you think you have laryngitis, so you can start on the medications. Both acute and chronic laryngitis may have the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Dryness in your throat
- Hoarse voice
- Weak voice or complete loss of voice
- Tickling sensation in your throat
- Dry cough
- Breathing difficulties in children
How is Laryngitis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely diagnose laryngitis if your voice is hoarse and you have sore throat. He may ask if you’re doing a lot of talking or shouting lately to confirm his diagnosis. If your hoarseness is chronic, he may examine your vocal cords and listen to your voice. Some doctors refer their patients to ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists for more accurate diagnoses. The underlying cause of the condition can be determined through the following tests:
- Biopsy: Although this test is quite rare for laryngitis, your doctor may still perform it if he sees a suspicious area in your vocal cords or larynx. He will take a tissue sample, and examine it under a microscope to see what causes the problem.
- Laryngoscopy: This procedure allows the doctor to observe your vocal cords through a tiny mirror and a light source. One technique involves the insertion of a flexible tube with a light and a tiny camera at one end through your mouth or nose to access the back of your throat. The doctor then observes movements in your larynx and vocal cords as you speak.
Medical Treatment for Laryngitis
Treatment of laryngitis depends on the underlying cause. It’s usually easy to treat laryngitis, and it may even go away on its own after a few days or weeks. You can treat it at home by taking these medications:
- Corticosteroids: Your doctor will only prescribe corticosteroids if you urgently need your voice to sing or deliver an important speech. Corticosteroids reduce the inflammation of the vocal cords, restoring the quality of your voice. These drugs are also prescribed to children with croup.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are usually ineffective against laryngitis because bacterial infections rarely cause the condition. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics though, if he determines that the culprits are bacteria.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) medications: If the cause of your laryngitis is GERD or acid reflux disease, then your doctor will likely recommend GERD medications, such as rabeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole, and omeprazole.
Recovery from laryngitis will be faster if you combine medications with home remedies. Here are some home remedies for laryngitis:
- Inhale steam: Fill a bowl with hot water, and then breathe the steam. Breathing in moist air from a hot shower also reduces the symptoms of laryngitis.
- Rest your vocal cords: Refrain from speaking as much as possible to ease the inflammation of your vocal cords. Do not sing or yell during the whole treatment process to quickly recover from the condition.
- Drink plenty of water: Your throat will be dry if you have laryngitis, so drink plenty of water and other fluids to reduce dryness and prevent dehydration. Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages, however, as they’ll only worsen your symptoms.
- Treat the underlying cause: Acute laryngitis may become chronic if the underlying cause of the condition is not treated right away. Stop alcohol abuse and smoking to prevent further complications.
- Gargle salt water: While gargling salt water doesn’t improve your vocal cords, it does ease throat irritation. You may also chew gum or suck lozenges to alleviate sore throat.
How to Prevent Laryngitis
Laryngitis is usually not a serious problem, but its symptoms can be very irritating and frustrating. You need your voice every day to talk to people at work or at school, so losing it will have negative effects on your performance. The following tips are very effective in preventing the irritation and dryness of your vocal cords:
- Keep yourself hydrated: Fluids keep your throat’s mucus thin, so it’s easier to clear. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to keep yourself hydrated.
- Don’t yell or use your voice too much: You don’t always have to shout or talk loudly in front of people to get your point across. As much as possible, speak in a soft manner to keep your vocal cords from getting strained. Also, shouting in a rock concert is a lot of fun, but remember that it puts a lot of stress in your larynx, which may result in laryngitis the next morning.
- Stop smoking: Aside from laryngitis, smoking causes lots of other illnesses that are more serious and harder to cure. Smoke irritates your larynx and dries your throat, which may eventually lead to chronic laryngitis. Stop smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke to reduce your risk.
- Refrain from clearing your throat: Contrary to popular belief, clearing the throat does more harm than good. Instead of doing what it’s supposed to do, it actually induces your throat to produce more mucus, which irritates your throat further, and makes you clear your throat again.
- Take good care of your respiratory health: Many cases of laryngitis result from various kinds of respiratory infections. Taking care of your respiratory health drastically reduces your risk of developing laryngitis. Always wash your hands to get rid of viruses and bacteria that cling on them. As much as possible, avoid people with upper respiratory diseases, since many of these diseases are highly contagious. Also, consult your doctor to find out if you should take annual flu shots to protect yourself during the flu season.
Don’t postpone your visit to the doctor if you think you’re suffering from laryngitis. Chronic laryngitis is more difficult to treat, and it will have bigger consequences on your life. Take good care of your respiratory health to prevent laryngitis and all other respiratory illnesses.
Click here for more information on how to get rid of laryngitis.