Definition Laryngitis is a general term for inflammation of the voice box, or larynx. It can be caused by many different conditions. The larynx is a tube-like structure that connects the back of the throat to the windpipes. It contains the vocal cords, which help us to talk.
What is going on in the body? The larynx and vocal cords become inflamed, reducing their ability to function, limiting the ability to talk, and possibly causing pain.
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? Symptoms of laryngitis are:
What can be done to prevent the condition? Most causes of laryngitis are preventable. The majority of cases in young people are caused by overuse of the voice or infection. Avoiding exposure to sick people and avoiding overuse of the voice would prevent most of these cases. In older people, smoking and cancer are additional causes. Smoking can cause laryngitis directly. Smoking and alcohol use are both risk factors for cancer of the larynx. Treatment of severe gastro-oesophageal reflux with medications can also help prevent laryngitis.
How is the condition diagnosed? In a typical case, the diagnosis can be made based on the history and physical examination. The physical examination may include the use of a special mirror to view the vocal cords. When the diagnosis is not clear or cancer is suspected, a procedure called laryngoscopy may be done. This test involves inserting a small tube with a camera and light on the end of it into the mouth to get a good look at the larynx. Biopsies or tissue samples can be taken through the tube if suspicious areas are seen.
What are the long-term effects of the condition? If the underlying cause is corrected, there are usually few or no long-term effects. Cancer of the larynx may result in death if the cancer spreads.
What are the risks to others? There are generally no risks to others. Infectious causes of laryngitis may be contagious.
What are the treatments for the condition? Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Plenty of fluids and humidified air often help relieve symptoms. The person should try to limit use of the voice for a few days. Smoking and second-hand smoke should be avoided. Medications to break up mucous and treat infections may be given. Throat lozenges and gargling can be helpful. Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen may also be used. Medications to reduce stomach acid are given if the cause is acid reflux or heartburn. Cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
What are the side effects of the treatments? All medications have side effects. Some pain relievers and antibiotics can cause stomach upset and allergic reactions. Cancer treatment has many side effects, including possible death.
What happens after treatment for the condition? Most cases of laryngitis resolve in a week or so. If laryngitis lasts for more than a month or seems suspicious, more testing such as laryngoscopy is done. For simple causes such as voice overuse and infection, further treatment is rarely required. The person can usually go back to normal activities.
How is the condition monitored? The underlying cause may need to be watched closely, especially if it is gastro-oesophageal reflux, stroke, or cancer. If the laryngitis is due to other causes, it usually does not require further monitoring, and goes away within 1 to 2 weeks.
Author: Adam Brochert, MD Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia Last Updated: 1/10/2001 Contributors Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request
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