Ear, Nose & Throat

Laryngitis – What It Is and What to Do

written by Becki Andrus

It’s a strange experience to open your mouth and hear a different sound than your normal voice while talking. If your voice sounds hoarse and you have other symptoms, then it’s possible that you might have a condition of the head & neck called laryngitis.

What is Laryngitis?

Laryngitis is a condition that affects the larynx (voice box), which can impact the sound and function of your voice. The vocal cords are located within the larynx, with several folds of mucous membrane that covers the cartilage and muscle.

When the voice box is working normally, the vocal cords have a smooth motion when opening and closing. These motions form different sounds based on the vibration and movement of the vocal cords.

On the other hand, laryngitis changes the way the vocal cords function. Irritation or inflammation in the vocal cords results in swelling, which causes a distortion in the sounds that move through. The result is a hoarse sound to your voice – with severe cases of laryngitis causing vocal loss.

Laryngitis: Most Common Symptoms

Usually, it’s evident that you have laryngitis because of the change in your voice. Common symptoms of laryngitis include:

  • Loss of voice
  • Weak voice
  • Hoarseness
  • Dry throat
  • Sore throat
  • Dry coughing
  • Rawness in the throat
  • Tickling throat sensation

Most of the time, the symptoms will last for a few weeks before going away without treatment. If the hoarseness is caused by something more serious, then you might need to treat the underlying condition.

What Causes Laryngitis?

The underlying cause of laryngitis needs to be identified, and it varies depending on acute and chronic conditions. Acute laryngitis is usually caused by:

  • Viral infections, such as the common cold
  • Bacterial infections, a less-common cause
  • Vocal strain, such as overusing the voice or yelling

For example, you might lose your voice for a few days after yelling loudly at a sports event or singing at a concert. Or, it’s common for a head cold to affect the throat and change the sound of the voice.

If these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, then you might have a case of chronic laryngitis. Usually, this type of laryngitis happens when the vocal cords are exposed to irritants consistently over time. This ongoing inflammation can cause injuries or growths on the vocal cords and might be caused by:

  • Inhaling smoke or chemicals
  • Smoking cigarettes or cigars
  • Acid reflux
  • Postnasal drip from chronic sinusitis
  • Consistent overuse of the voice (singers or cheerleaders)
  • Chronic infections
  • Cancer or growths
  • Nerve injury causing vocal cord paralysis

Acute vs. Chronic Laryngitis

Depending on the cause, laryngitis can be short-lived or long-lasting. For example, the most common cause of laryngitis is a viral infection, such as the common cold. If you lose your voice when you have a head cold, then you can expect the usual sound of your voice to come back when you heal from the viral infection (usually in a week to 10 days).

These acute, short-term symptoms aren’t severe and usually don’t cause lasting damage. It might be a temporary inconvenience to lose your voice or have a hoarse voice, but it won’t have long-term effects on your ability to talk.

Patients with persistent, chronic laryngitis usually have an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. The hoarse voice is just a symptom that something is going on. It’s necessary to work with an ENT specialist to identify the reason why you are experiencing hoarseness.

Risk Factors: Are You at Risk of Laryngitis?

Understanding the causes of laryngitis can help you avoid certain risk factors that could affect your vocal cords. Be aware of the activities and irritants that could be influencing your throat, then adjust your lifestyle if needed to prevent damage to the vocal cords.

Home Remedies for Laryngitis

The way you care for your throat each day can influence your risk of laryngitis now and in the future. Minimizing your exposure to cigarette smoke, stomach acid, and workplace chemicals helps protect the vocal cords and throat from chronic inflammation.

Also, be aware of how much you are using your voice. If you need to use your voice frequently for singing or speaking, it’s best to be proactive about giving your vocal cords time to rest. When the symptoms are flaring, avoid speaking loudly, shouting, or singing.

The best way to rest the vocal cords is not to speak at all. If the vocal cords are inflamed, then even whispering can irritate and exacerbate the symptoms.

Other common home remedies for laryngitis include using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, or sucking on throat lozenges to moisten the throat tissues. Be careful to avoid anything that might dry out the throat, such as decongestant medications.

Talk to an ENT about the underlying cause of laryngitis, and then you can identify a treatment plan. For example, if it’s determined that your hoarseness is affected by acid reflux, then changing your diet might be a way to reduce the risk of laryngitis. Avoiding spicy foods and using reflux medications could be a solution to protect your voice box.

Do You Need to Talk to a Doctor about Laryngitis?

Most of the time, at-home self-care is sufficient for mild or moderate cases of laryngitis. If you have a head cold, focus on the treatments to help you overcome the sickness. Also, take care of your voice to minimize overuse.

Sometimes, medications are helpful to address laryngitis. For example, your ENT might recommend corticosteroids to reduce vocal cord inflammation or antibiotics to clear up a bacterial infection.

Keep in mind that if you continue using the vocal cords strenuously, then it could potentially result in permanent damage to the vocal cords. It’s best to seek treatment from an ENT to address chronic laryngitis so you can avoid long-term damage.

If you have lost your voice or have hoarseness when you speak, then an ENT might be able to help. When the symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, we recommend that you schedule a visit with our team at Collin County Ear Nose and Throat.

These quality services are available for patients in and around Collin County and Dallas. Please schedule an appointment so we can complete an examination and determine an effective treatment plan to help your vocal cords heal. We offer two convenient offices in Plano and Frisco, TX, to serve families in all of the surrounding communities.

Book an appointment by using our online request form. Or you can book an exam by calling us at (972) 596-4005. Contact our office any time if you have questions about available services.

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