The larynx is also commonly known as the voice box and contains the vocal cords which are two mucous membranes covering muscle and cartilage. Under normal and healthy conditions, the vocal cords open and close in smooth movements and vibrations that form sounds. Laryngitis is a condition caused by overuse or vocal strain due to yelling, singing, talking, coughing or clearing the throat too long or too often; irritations due to pollutants, chemicals or allergens such as smoke or fumes; a viral, bacterial or fungal infection; an injury or a growth; or paralysis due to a stroke. Regardless of the cause, the result is an inflammation and swelling of the larynx and the vocal cords within it, which in turn distort the sounds they generate.
Laryngitis can be acute and lasting but a short time (less than two weeks) or it can be chronic and long lasting (more than three weeks). The most common symptoms of laryngitis are:
- A hoarse, husky or raspy voice.
- A weak or an inaudible voice which is often considered “lost.”
- A feeling of scratchiness, an itchiness or a rawness deep down in the throat.
- A sore throat and a sensation of dryness that does not seem to be relieved by merely drinking.
- A dry and unproductive cough.
- A difficulty breathing which is most common in young children.
Examinations and Laryngitis Treatments
If the symptoms fail to subside or become worse with wheezing sounds when inhaling, trouble swallowing, difficulty breathing and a fever that surpasses 103 degrees Fahrenheit or 39 degrees Centigrade, it is time to seek medical attention. The medical practitioner may perform laryngoscopy which is a visual examination of the larynx or a biopsy for the extraction of sample tissue to be examined under a microscope.
Depending on the findings of the examinations, the medical practitioner may prescribe antibiotics or corticosteroids. Home remedies may be prescribed in addition to the drugs or instead of them:
- Breathing in moistened air from a hot pot of water, a hot shower or a vaporizer.
- Giving the voice a rest by not speaking and by not attempting to whisper.
- Avoid drinking of caffeinated drinks (coffee or colas) or alcohol while increasing the intake of water.
- Not smoking and staying away from others who smoke.
- Sucking on mints or lozenges, gargling with salt water and chewing mint-flavored gum.
As prevention is often the best medicine, the following are a few tips about how to prevent laryngitis and its unpleasant symptoms:
- Smoke irritates the larynx and its vocal cords — do not smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Fluids thin out the mucous of the throat and make clearing it either unnecessary or very easy — drink plenty of water.
- Clearing the throat irritates the vocal cords with swelling due to abnormal vibrations. The more the throat is cleared the more mucous is formed and that will only increase the urge to clear it again. Avoid clearing the throat whenever it is at all possible.
- Respiratory infections and colds are often causes of laryngitis. Therefore, preventing them by getting annual flu injections when advised, by frequently washing the hands with plenty of soap and hot water and by staying far away from those who have upper respiratory infections of colds.