Remember when you observe some people, especially singers or comperes, often complaining that their voice has gone down? This means that they are effected by laryngitis. Laryngitis is the medical name for hoarseness or sore throat, the condition where the larynx, or the voice box gets swollen or inflamed. The larynx is a complex cartilaginous structure in the mid-throat that is responsible for sound production, manipulation of pitch and volume and other functions related to breathing and swallowing. It is the slightly hard protuberance, more prominent in males than females, that you can feel when you touch the front of your throat. Within this structure lie the vocal folds, which are critical to phonation or the ability to develop and articulate sound or speech. This swelling of the vocal folds causes laryngitis which leads to the hoarseness, soreness, and even total loss of the voice.
Laryngitis can be brought on by viral infection (including dreaded diseases like measles and mumps), prolonged physical or chemical irritation or by overuse of the vocal cords. Most instances of laryngitis resolve on their own as the aggravating factors subside. These episodes of acute laryngitis rarely last for more than a few days to a couple of weeks. Laryngitis that lasts for more than three weeks is known as chronic laryngitis and is typically brought on by prolonged irritation of the vocal cords. This can be from irritants like inhaled smoke or chemical vapors (irritants like vehicular exhaust or chemicals in a lab), from repeated acid reflux from the stomach, chronic and excessive alcohol use, cigaret smoking and overuse of the voice in shouting or singing (activities like cheering, singing along at a concert). Chronic laryngitis may also arise from bacterial infections or cancerous processes in extreme, though not rare, instances.
Hoarseness of voice, loss of voice and a sore throat are the most common symptoms of laryngitis. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, dryness of the throat, coughing, and fever.
Hoarseness presents itself when the vocal folds are inflamed to a point that you are unable to articulate sounds. Instead what you get is a flow of air through the cords that makes you sound like you are whispering when you speak. A common mistake that people make is to try harder to articulate sound, which only makes the hoarseness worse. A more acute state of hoarseness is loss of voice, where no sound at all can be produced.
As a result of the inflammation and infection, pain and tenderness develop as the body tried to deal with the condition. This presents itself as a sore and painful throat. Sore throat may present itself with pain and difficulty when attempting to swallow food or water. A dry throat may develop, along with painful coughing. As with all inflammatory processes, fever may also develop.
Laryngitis can usually be diagnosed by noting down the patient’s history and by a physical examination. Ruling out associated respiratory tract infections is standard course for chronic laryngitis. Larynx is diagnosed with the help of a laryngoscope in some cases. For persistent and repeated vocal cord dysfunction, a specialist is usually recommended who can conduct tests to accurately diagnose the condition. The specialist may remove a sample of tissue from the area in order to examine it more closely.
With most instances of laryngitis, symptoms usually resolve with time. Front line treatment usually includes total voice rest, thus allowing the vocal cords to heal. Gargling with warm salt water and keeping the throat region protected from further infections or exposure to variations in temperature also help. Increased fluid intake helps the body battle any infectious process that may have developed. Symptomatic treatment with decongestants and painkillers are sometimes prescribed. Other helpful treatment includes humidifier therapy to relieve dryness and irritation. Antibiotics are usually of not much help unless there are associated bacterial infections present, as laryngitis is usually a viral infection.
For laryngitis caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, a course of medication to treat that condition may be prescribed. Common reflux medications include H2 receptor blockers such as Zantac or proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec. For bacterial or fungal infections, antibiotics or antifungal medications may be prescribed.