Feel like you have a frog in your throat? One cause could be that your voice box or larynx is swollen. This condition is called laryngitis and occurs when the vocal cords are inflamed making your voice feel hoarse.
What is Laryngitis?
Laryngitis is swelling of the voice box.. The voice box or larynx lies on the upper part of your neck. When there is swelling in the vocal cords, it causes the chords to muffle resulting in your voice becoming hoarse. Inflammation of your voice box is generally caused by an infection. It could be a bacterial or viral infection. The issue could also be due to the overuse of the larynx.
Laryngitis is generally a short lived condition. With proper treatment, the condition should resolve within 1-3 weeks, however, if untreated, it might turn out to be chronic.
What are the causes of Laryngitis?
In most cases, laryngitis gets better on its own during the course of a week or two when the underlying cause gets resolved. Generally, acute laryngitis is caused by a viral infection. An upper respiratory infection caused by the flu, cold or bronchitis results in acute laryngitis. Apart from this, other causes could be a bacterial or fungal infection. Vocal strain or injury to vocal chords due to screaming or singing for long periods and persistent clearing of the throat or coughing are other causes.
Chronic laryngitis lasts more than 3 weeks and is generally caused by exposure to irritants for a long duration. This can result in severe damage to your vocal chords and even cause the growth of nodules or polyps. Some of the reasons for this are exposure to toxic fumes from smoking and vaping and the consumption of alcohol. Additionally, prolonged usage of inhalers for asthma, injury to the throat by an object, fungal infections as well as allergies are other causes. Singers have a higher tendency to have chronic laryngitis due to continuous over-use of their voice.
What are the symptoms of laryngitis?
Symptoms can appear suddenly and the condition can gradually worsen in a few days. The most common signs and symptoms are:
- Hoarseness in voice
- Dry throat
- Sore throat
- An urge to clear your throat constantly
- Irritation in your throat
- Swollen glands
- Difficulty in swallowing and speaking
If your laryngitis is associated with other ailments such as a flu or throat infection, then the above symptoms can be followed by
- Aches and pains
If you notice the above symptoms and they do not fade off after 2 weeks, then it is wise to have an ENT consultation to better assess the cause of your laryngitis.
How is laryngitis diagnosed?
Your ENT doctor will do a physical examination of your throat and take your medical history. In addition to identifying the causative agent of your laryngitis, the doctor would suggest a culture to be performed. The culture will likely grow the bacteria or virus which is causing the condition.
Your otolaryngologist might even do a laryngoscopy, to examine your throat. The endoscope is equipped with a camera which helps to view the vocal chords easily. If there are any lumps or nodules the ENT doctor might pick a sample for further analysis and perform a biopsy. To exclude other underlying conditions, your specialist might perform an X-ray or a skin prick allergy test.
How is laryngitis treated?
Resting your voice is the best treatment to allow it to recover on its own. In addition some of the self-care steps would be to quit smoking and drinking alcohol. Keeping yourself hydrated by taking additional fluids and inhaling moist air can ease symptoms. Decongestants should be avoided. If the above steps do not improve your condition and the laryngitis prevails for more than 2 weeks, then seek medical intervention. The usual medications include:
- Corticosteroids: These medications help to reduce the swelling and as a man-made class of drugs which mimic hormones, it has a great relief on reducing the symptoms of this condition.
- Antibiotics: If the laryngitis is caused by a bacteria then, antibiotics can help to fight the condition. However, bacterial laryngitis is less common.
- Pain relief: If your laryngitis is causing you discomfort and pain, then medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can bring down your pain. Your ENT doctor will decide on the dosage.
- Voice Therapy: A speech therapist can help you to reduce the strain on your voice by bringing in behavioural voice changes.
Laryngitis in kids
Laryngitis can be serious in children. Babies who cry constantly can be affected by a strain in their vocal cords. It is important to watch out for fever especially in babies younger than 3 months. They might even have trouble breathing and swallowing. If you feel your baby is making a high pitched sound when inhaling and is drooling more than usual, it will be important to seek medical attention.
In children, laryngitis can cause narrowing in the airways which can be life threatening, so in case your child has difficulty breathing seek urgent medical attention. In adults, the condition is not so severe, but if the condition doesn’t resolve in 2 weeks and you observe blood in sputum or have high fever, you should see your ENT doctor.
Can Laryngitis be prevented?
Several steps can be taken to minimise your chances of developing laryngitis. This includes:
- Keeping your throat hydrated
- Quitting smoking
- Quitting alcohol consumption
- Avoiding exposure to chemical irritants
- Avoiding caffeine beverages
- Avoiding excess strain on your voice
When should I see a doctor?
If your child has laryngitis and has difficulty breathing and is drooling more than usual, then the child needs emergency treatment, especially for infants below 3 months of age. Adults who have chronic laryngitis where the condition is persistent for more than 3 weeks, and symptoms of fever, ear pain and unintentional weight loss are observed should visit their ENT doctor.
Laryngitis is a condition which can be treated. The ENT Clinic Singapore situated at Mount Elizabeth Novena and Gleneagles caters to all your ENT maladies. It has a friendly, well qualified staff and is a centre for ENT excellence.