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Laryngitis

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

Symptoms

  • The characterising symptom of laryngitis is voice loss or hoarseness
  • Speaking or trying to speak may be painful
  • Symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection often accompany laryngitis, and may include sore throat, respiratory congestion, cough, nasal discharge, fever, and fatigue
  • Swallowing may be painful or difficult
  • Shortness of breath
  • Symptoms of laryngitis tend to come on suddenly
  • In most cases, laryngitis resolves itself in a week to ten days. If it persists for longer than 3 weeks, it is considered chronic and requires professional care.

Causes

The most common cause of laryngitis is an infection with one of the viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections. Less commonly, it may be caused by bacterial infection, or may be a symptom of another infection (e.g. measles, mumps or chicken pox), or an autoimmune disease (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis).

Other causes may include irritation of the larynx due to:

  • Over-using the voice (e.g. singing or yelling loudly or for long periods)
  • Cigarette smoke or other inhaled toxins (e.g. air pollution)
  • Use of asthma inhalers
  • Gastric acids in reflux disease.

The loss of voice occurs because when the voice box becomes inflamed, the vocal chords are unable to vibrate as they usually do, and consequently are incapable of producing sound, or can only produce limited sounds.

Diet and lifestyle

  • Laryngitis normally resolves within a short time, but you may exacerbate your lost voice by continuing to try to talk normally while you’ve got it. If you need to speak, you’ll do least damage to your voice by using a soft, sighing voice. Don’t whisper, as it may aggravate the larynx further.
  • Don’t smoke while you have laryngitis. It will only delay your recovery. If you have reflux, it may also increase stomach acidity and aggravate your digestive symptoms.
  • The use of a humidifier or the inhalation of steam may help to clear mucus from the airways.
  • Gargles made with sage or thyme herbal teas are traditional remedies for laryngitis and other throat conditions. To make the gargle, pour 100 mL 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.
  • If your laryngitis is caused by reflux, changing your diet to one based on smaller meals and excluding any aggravating foods can go a long way towards relieving the digestive problems. In particular, avoid spicy and fatty foods, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, mint, tomato sauce and carbonated beverages. It may also be worthwhile to elevate the head of your bed by a few inches so that gravity helps prevent food moving upwards from the stomach to the oesophagus.

Important notes

  • Consult your health care professional if your laryngitis lasts for more than three 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 chords.

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