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Laryngitis

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Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (voice box), and is characterised by hoarseness.

Laryngitis is when the voice box, called the larynx, becomes inflamed and the vocal cords become so swollen they can’t vibrate properly. This causes someone with laryngitis to sound hoarse when they speak or even to lose their voice.

Symptoms

The characterising symptom of laryngitis is voice loss or hoarseness, but other symptoms include:
  • Speaking or trying to speak may be painful
  • Swallowing may also be painful or difficult
  • A sore, dry or tickly throat
  • An irritating cough
  • A mild fever.

When laryngitis occurs as part of another illness, like a common cold, there may also be other symptoms, like a runny nose, headache and swollen glands.


Causes

Laryngitis can either be acute, or short term, or, if it lasts for longer than three weeks, chronic. The causes of acute and chronic laryngitis are usually slightly different.

Causes of acute laryngitis include:
  • An infection with one of the viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections, like a common cold virus
  • Vocal strain, caused by shouting or overuse of your voice
  • A bacterial infection, although this is less common.
Causes of chronic laryngitis include:
  • Habitual and regular overuse of the voice
  • Smoking
  • Excessive, long-term alcohol use
  • Inhaling irritants like smoke, allergens, dust or fumes
  • An injury to the vocal cords
  • Acid reflux
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Allergies.

Treatment

In most cases, acute laryngitis resolves itself on its own and without the need for medication in a week to 10 days. The following strategies may help your voice recover:

  • Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol.
  • Rest your voice by talking as little as possible. If you need to speak, you’ll do least damage to your voice by using a soft, sighing voice. Don’t try to whisper, as it may aggravate the larynx further.
  • Don’t smoke while you have laryngitis.
  • The use of a humidifier or the inhalation of steam may help to clear mucus from the airways.
  • Avoid using products that work as nasal decongestants, as they can make your throat drier.
  • Gargling with warm, salty water may help. Gargles made with sage or thyme herbal teas are also traditional remedies for laryngitis and other throat conditions. To make the gargle, pour 100ml of boiling water over half a teaspoon of either herb. Cover, and allow it to steep until it cools enough to use as a gargle. Strain the tea and use as a gargle several times a day, making a fresh batch every time.

In comparison to acute laryngitis, treatments for chronic laryngitis are usually aimed at treating the underlying cause which could be acid reflux, smoking or chronic sinusitis. If symptoms persist for longer than two weeks , see your doctor.


Important notes

  • Consult your health care professional if your laryngitis lasts for more than two weeks.
  • If you use your voice professionally, it may be beneficial to have vocal therapy or training in order to learn to use your voice without straining your vocal cords.
  • If you have symptoms relating to COVID-19, seek health advice about getting tested.
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