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Laryngitis

Laryngitis

Alternate Names

  • inflammation of the larynx
  • Larynx

Definition

Laryngitis is a general term for inflammation of the larynx (the voice box). 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.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The many causes of laryngitis include:
  • infection
  • overuse of the voice, such as doing a lot of yelling and screaming
  • inhalation of smoke or fumes
  • excess alcohol consumption
  • damage to the nerves that supply the vocal cords
  • cancer
  • trauma or injury to the neck or vocal cords
  • smoking
  • severe gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Most causes of laryngitis are preventable. The majority of cases in young people are caused infection or by overuse of the voice. 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. In addition, smoking and alcohol use are risk factors for cancer of the larynx. Treatment of severe gastroesophageal reflux with medications can prevent other cases of laryngitis.

Diagnosed

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.

Long Term Effects

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.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

There are generally no risks to others. Infectious causes of laryngitis may be contagious.

Treatments

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 mucus and treat infections may be given. Throat lozenges and gargling can be helpful. Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen (i.e., Advil, Motrin) 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.

Side Effects

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.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Most cases of laryngitis resolve in about a week. If laryngitis lasts for more than a month or is accompanied by other symptoms, a laryngoscope may be required to look for underlying causes. For simple cases due to voice overuse or infection, further treatment is rarely required. The person can usually go back to normal activities.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

The underlying cause may need to be watched closely, especially if it is gastroesophageal 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.

Sources

Conn's Current Therapy, 1999, Rakel et al.

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