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What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is a when your larynx is swollen. The larynx is the muscular tube in your neck that contains the vocal cords. The larynx also prevents food and liquids from going into your lungs. The vocal cords in your larynx usually move easily together and apart. When you have laryngitis, your vocal cords swell and change shape. This may change how your voice sounds.

What causes laryngitis?

Any of the following may cause laryngitis:

  • Gastric reflux: This is a condition where foods and acids from your stomach flow back into your esophagus. The acid from your stomach may reach your larynx and damage it. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about gastric reflux.
  • Infections: The most common cause of laryngitis is a viral infection. Infections from bacteria or fungi may also cause laryngitis.
  • Irritation: Things in the air that you breath in may irritate your larynx, such as chemicals and pollen.
  • Other conditions: These include vocal cord paralysis and tumors in the larynx.

What increases my risk of having laryngitis?

Any of the following may increase your risk of having laryngitis:

  • Conditions that weaken your immune system: Your immune system is your body's defense against certain infections. The system does not work as well when you have a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes or AIDS.
  • Exposure to irritating or harmful substances:
    • Drinking alcohol: Your risk increases if you drink alcohol frequently or in large amounts.
    • Smoking: Smoking or being around cigarette smokers and inhaling the smoke can irritate or damage your larynx.
    • Substances in the air: Working or being around certain chemicals or substances often or too much can cause laryngitis. These substances include Freon gas, formaldehyde, organic mercury, sulfuric acids, and solvents. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about irritants that may cause laryngitis.
  • Medicines: Certain medicines such as antibiotics or inhaled steroids can increase your risk.
  • Previous radiation therapy: Head or neck radiation therapy earlier in life may increase your risk of having fungal laryngitis.
  • Respiratory infections: Colds or other respiratory infections increase your risk.
  • Voice stress: Your vocal cords can get stressed by overuse of your voice without rest breaks. A worse form of vocal stress is voice abuse, such as shouting or singing or talking too loud.

What are the signs and symptoms of laryngitis?

You may have one or more of the following:

  • Breathy, raspy, and hoarse voice
  • Cough
  • Feeling of tightness or of something stuck in your throat
  • Headache
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Sore throat or clearing of the throat often
  • Trouble swallowing

How is laryngitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health. This may include information on what signs and symptoms you have and when they started. You may also be asked about diseases you have had. You will also be asked what medicine you are taking or have taken in the past. You may also be asked about your present job or working conditions. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on the following tests:

  • Acid test: This test is also called a pH monitoring test and is usually done within a 24-hour period. It measures how often and for how long stomach acid enters your esophagus.
  • Biopsy: This is when sample tissues are taken from your larynx and sent to a lab for tests. This is done to check if you have fungal laryngitis.
  • Esophagoscopy: This test is also called an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy (EGD). It is done to check your esophagus when you have acid reflux that stops and later comes back. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about EGD.
  • Laryngoscopy: This is used to check the inside of your larynx directly using a laryngoscope. A laryngoscope is a flexible lighted tube that is inserted through your mouth into your upper airway.
  • Provocation test: You may be asked to breathe in or be around certain substances to check if you will have symptoms.

How is laryngitis treated?

Laryngitis may go away on its own. If your condition gets worse, you may be given any of the following treatments:

  • Medicines:
    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
    • Antifungal medicines: These medicines are given to treat fungal laryngitis. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on antifungal medicines.
    • Antiacid medicines: These medicines, called proton pump inhibitors, are used to decrease the amount of acid made by your stomach.
  • Other treatments:
    • Air humidifier: Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air in your home. The moist air makes it easier to cough up mucus from your lungs. This may also help your laryngitis heal faster.
    • Increasing liquid intake: You may need to increase the amount of liquids you drink each day. Drink even more liquids if you will be outdoors in the sun for a long time. You should also drink more liquids if you are exercising. Try to drink enough liquid each day and not just when you feel thirsty.
    • Voice rest: Complete voice rest for a few days may be needed until your symptoms improved. You may need to limit using your voice for a while if complete voice rest is not possible.

How can laryngitis be prevented?

  • Avoid being around irritating and harmful substances: Protect your larynx from substances that can cause laryngitis. These include things to which you are allergic, alcohol, and irritating chemicals.
  • Change your diet if you have reflux: This may include avoiding fatty foods, chocolate, peppermint, carbonated drinks, alcohol, and caffeine. Also avoid spicy and acidic foods like citrus, pineapple, salad dressings, hot sauces, and curry. These foods will cause belching and may worsen your acid reflux. Ask your healthcare provider for other types of food that may not be right for you.
  • Quit smoking: It is never too late to quit smoking. Smoking irritates your throat and larynx and harms your heart and lungs. You are more likely to have a heart attack, lung disease, and cancer if you smoke. You will help yourself and those around you by not smoking. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on how to stop smoking if you are having trouble quitting.
  • Take care of your voice: Warm up your voice before making it work hard. Avoid shouting or singing too loud. Rest your voice for some time to help prevent your larynx from getting inflamed. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how best to take care of your voice.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have large, tender lumps in your neck.
  • Your hoarseness lasts longer than 7 days.
  • You have new or increased throat pain.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your throat is bleeding.
  • You are hoarse for more than 7 days and your chest feels tight.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • You have severe drooling or trouble swallowing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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