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Laryngitis

Inflammation of the larynx (voice box), usually caused by infection and producing hoarseness

  • Smoking is a risk factor; drinking alcohol aggravates the condition
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx, which lies between the throat and the trachea (windpipe) and contains the vocal cords. The condition may be acute, lasting for only a few days, or be chronic and persist for months. It is rarely serious but can cause breathing difficulties in children (see Croup).

Acute laryngitis is usually caused by a viral infection, such as a common cold, but it may occur after straining the voice. Chronic laryngitis may be caused by smoking and long-term overuse of the voice, which may damage the larynx. Drinking alcohol, particularly spirits, may aggravate laryngitis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of laryngitis usually develop over a period of 12–24 hours and vary depending on the underlying cause. Symptoms may include:

  • Hoarseness.

  • Gradual loss of the voice.

  • Pain in the throat, especially when using the voice.

Sometimes, laryngitis is associated with vocal cord nodules.

What can I do?

Acute laryngitis that is caused by a viral infection usually clears up without treatment. There is no specific treatment for chronic laryngitis. For both forms of the condition, resting your voice can help to relieve pain and to avoid further damage to the vocal cords.

Inhaling steam while under a towel may also help to relieve symptoms (see Steam inhalation). To prevent a recurrence of chronic laryngitis, you should try not to overuse your voice. If you smoke, you should try to stop completely, and, if you drink heavily, you should reduce your intake of alcohol.

Since hoarseness can be a symptom of cancer of the larynx, you should consult your doctor if a voice change persists for more than 2 weeks. He or she will probably arrange for you to go to hospital for mirror laryngoscopy.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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