Laryngitis - Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Laryngitis is the name we give to the inflammation of the larynx, the region of the airways where the vocal cords are located.

Laryngitis has several causes, the main ones being allergy, infections, smoking, gastroesophageal reflux or excessive use of voice. Inflammation of the larynx and vocal cords may be manifested as acute laryngitis or chronic laryngitis.

In this article we will explain what is laryngitis, what are its causes, its symptoms and the main treatment options. We will also talk a bit about croup, also known as stricture laryngitis.

Throat anatomy
Throat anatomy

What is the larynx?

The larynx is a short cylindrical structure, located below the pharynx and just above the trachea, responsible for housing the vocal cords. The larynx is behind a cartilaginous protrusion of the neck known as the Adam's apple.

During swallowing, access to the larynx closes, preventing food from reaching the vocal cords and trachea. Laryngeal closure ensures that food follows the correct path toward the esophagus. There is no food passing through the larynx, only the inspired and expired air.

The vocal cords are in the larynx and, in addition to allowing the passage of air towards the trachea, can vibrate with the passage of air from the lungs in the opposite direction, allowing us to make sounds and talk.

The larynx, therefore, has three main functions:
  • Channel the breathed air toward the vocal cords and trachea.
  • Act as a valve, closing the trachea when you swallow, preventing food or liquids from entering your airway.
  • Allow sounds to be emitted by vibrating the vocal cords with the passage of air from the lungs.

When the larynx is inflamed, we say that the patient has laryngitis, a condition characterized predominantly by inflammation of the vocal chords, which causes a reduction in their ability to vibrate, leading to hoarseness or loss of voice.

Causes of laryngitis

Most laryngitis is acute and self-limited, lasting less than 3 weeks. Acute laryngitis is usually caused by viral infections that affect the upper pathways.

It is very common that a picture of laryngitis comes accompanied by other infections, such as flu, cold, pharyngitis or sinusitis. Allergy chills that affect the various areas can also cause acute laryngitis.

Another common cause of acute laryngitis is the excessive use of vocal cords, causing irritation of the vocal cords. Vocal strings can be injured when we repeatedly yell, sing aloud for a long time or when we use the voice for a long time without rest. Coughing can also cause vocal cord injury.

Chronic laryngitis is one that lasts more than 3 weeks. Cigarette and abusive use of alcoholic beverages are common causes of persistent laryngitis.

Chronic laryngeal irritation can also be caused by gastroesophageal reflux, chronic sinusitis, excessive and constant use of voice, as in the case of singers or speakers, or by constant use of inhaled asthma pumps.

Chronic hoarseness may also be caused by the presence of nodules, polyps, or tumors in the vocal cords. In these cases there is not exactly a laryngitis, since the symptoms are caused by the presence of mass in the vocal cords and not by inflammation of the same.

Symptoms of laryngitis

The most typical symptoms of laryngitis are hoarseness and loss of voice. Neck pain is also common. The throat clearing and the feeling of having to clear the throat often can also be signs of laryngitis.

When inflammation of the larynx is caused by a viral infection of the airways, symptoms such as coryza, sneezing, prostration or coughing are usually present.

Stridulous laryngitis

Estradiol laryngitis, also called a croup, is the term used for an inflammation, usually of viral origin, which concomitantly affects the larynx, epiglottis and trachea. The croup preferably affects children between 6 months and 3 years of age. Its main sign is a hoarse cough, popularly called "dog cough".

Stridulous laryngitis is usually self-limiting, but in some children inflammation of the airways becomes intense, causing respiratory distress. High fever, drowsiness, wheezing, difficulty in suckling, and inability to cry are signs of seriousness that must be evaluated urgently by a physician.

Treatment of laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is a condition that improves spontaneously, in most cases less than 1 week.

To help heal the vocal cords, it is important not to smoke, not to drink, and to avoid environments with smoke or pollutants. Maintaining good hydration ensures that the vocal cords will not dry out, which could aggravate the condition. Inhalation with serum can be used as it helps to keep the airways moist.

Gargling with warm water and lozenges help if there is associated sore throat. If it is only hoarseness, they have no effect, as no liquid reaches the larynx. Remember, what you swallow goes to the esophagus and not to the airways, where the vocal cords are.

Avoid talking, if possible. Whispering does not spare the vocal chords, quite the opposite. If you need to talk, use a soft, low tone that is more beneficial to the larynx than the whisper.

In most cases there is no indication for the use of antibiotics, since most infectious cases are caused by viruses.

Chronic laryngitis needs to be investigated by the otolaryngologist. Treatment involves identification of the cause.

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