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The hoarse truth: All you need to know about laryngitis

The hoarse truth: All you need to know about laryngitis

Laryngitis is the inflammation of the vocal cords.
 laryngitis, sore throat, hoarse voice, throat pain, vocal cords, voice box
Representational image | Shutterstock

Early in 2022, Shweta Tiwary, a school teacher from Bokaro, Jharkhand, encountered a difficult situation. At 38, she began to experience persistent throat pain, brought on by the strain of using her vocal cords for prolonged periods while teaching in the classroom. The pain followed her home like clockwork, casting a shadow over her evenings. “The pain used to subside the following morning but flared up after I strained my voice in the classroom,” she recalls.  

She suspected her tonsils were causing the condition, so she consulted a doctor and was diagnosed with laryngitis. Tiwary was initially confused as she thought it was caused by the common cold, but her doctor explained that in her case, it was due to excessive strain on her vocal cords. 

What is laryngitis? 

Dr Karthik Shamanna, consultant, ENT, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru says that laryngitis is a common condition that causes inflammation of the larynx. The larynx is a part of the throat that contains the vocal cords (two small flexible bands of muscles), which vibrate when air passes through them and produces sound when we speak. When the vocal cords become inflamed, they vibrate differently, causing hoarseness, change in voice, or loss of voice. 

He also added that there is not a single defined factor that causes laryngitis.  

Causes of laryngitis 

Dr Anoop Sabharwal, clinician, ENT, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi says that an infection of the voice box can lead to a change of voice to possible breathing difficulties. It is mostly caused by respiratory viruses and occasionally bacteria that spread through aerosol or droplet transmission.  

He suggests a few common factors that cause laryngitis:

  1. Viral infections: The common cold, flu, or respiratory infections can cause inflammation of the larynx and lead to laryngitis. 
  2. Bacterial infections: Strep throat and similar infections can also cause laryngitis. 
  3. Acid reflux: The corrosive stomach acid flowing back into the oesophagus and throat can irritate and inflame the larynx. 
  4. Smoking and chemicals: Smoking and inhaling harmful fumes can cause irritation and inflammation of the larynx, leading to laryngitis. 
  5. Vocal strain: Excessive use of the voice, such as yelling or singing, can cause a strain on the vocal cords, leading to inflammation and laryngitis. 
  6. Laryngeal cancer: Cancer of the laryngitis can lead to inflammation of the larynx and a noticeable change in the voice.
 laryngitis, sore throat, hoarse voice, throat pain, vocal cords, voice box
Representational image | Shutterstock

Laryngitis symptoms 

Dr Shamanna says that the symptoms of laryngitis can vary depending on the severity of the inflammation. Common symptoms that can last for a few days to weeks include:

  1. Hoarseness or loss of voice 
  2. Sore throat 
  3. Dry cough or cough with sputum 
  4. Difficulty swallowing 
  5. Throat pain 
  6. Fatigue 
  7. If symptoms are accompanied by fever, it indicates viral/bacterial infection

How to treat laryngitis   

Dr Sabharwal says that laryngitis treatment depends on the cause and severity of the condition.  

“In order to improve the healing of vocal cords, voice rest is vital,” he added.  

Tiwary too had to rest her vocal cords for two weeks to completely recover from the vocal cord inflammation. “I had also noticed that the throat pain was significantly lower every morning but hadn’t thought [voice rest] could be healing until my doctor strictly advised this,” she added.  

In many cases, laryngitis can be treated at home with natural methods and by adopting some self-care measures. Dr Sabharwal shares some effective ways to manage laryngitis, which include:

  1. Voice rest: Avoid excessive talking, singing or yelling to allow the vocal cords to heal. 
  2. Drinking plenty of fluids: Staying hydrated can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. Just make sure the water is consumed at room temperature. 
  3. Sipping hot water: Can help soothe the throat and keep it moistened. 
  4. Using a humidifier: Adding moisture to the air can help soothe the throat and reduce inflammation. 
  5. Avoiding irritants: Refrain from smoking, second-hand smoke, and exposure to chemicals or harmful fumes.

“In case the pain is interfering with your daily tasks, your doctor may advise over-the-counter pain relievers,” says Sabharwal. “I advise not to self-medicate with any OTC medicines for symptomatic relief as it is important to diagnose what’s causing the symptoms. Diagnosing the condition will help to tailor better therapy.” 

Dr Shamanna says that if laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. In some cases, if the inflammation is severe or persistent, a doctor may recommend a steroid medication to reduce inflammation. 

Prevention is better than cure 

Taking preventive measures will increase one’s chances of not contracting any infection, decrease the duration of recovery, or speed up healing if one falls sick.  

Dr Shamanna and Dr Sabharwal share some simple tips to keep the condition at bay. 

  1. Avoid smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. 
  2. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. 
  3. Practise good vocal hygiene by avoiding excessive talking, yelling or singing. Sip water in intervals if one must speak for a longer duration. 
  4. Managing acid reflux by avoiding trigger foods, maintaining a healthy weight, or antacids prescribed by the doctor. 
  5. Stay away from people with contagious illnesses, such as the common cold or flu, maintain hand hygiene, and wash your clothes if you suspect you have come in contact with an infected individual. 

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