In this article:
What does the larynx do?
The larynx is a tubular organ that contains the vocal cords within a skeletal framework made of cartilage. It is also called the voice box.
It is common knowledge that the vocal cords are required for sound production, which enables humans to talk.
Aside from enabling oral communication, the vocal cords serve another vital function.
The primary role of the vocal cords is to protect the airway by stimulating your cough reflex.
The cough reflex is an internal mechanism that prevents foreign bodies, saliva, food, etc., from getting into your lungs.
What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx due to an infection or irritation. This condition usually resolves within 2 weeks, but it can last for a longer time in some situations.
When laryngitis persists for more than 3 weeks, it is referred to as chronic laryngitis.
Swollen vocal cords are unable to come together and vibrate to produce your normal voice. In most cases, laryngitis causes the patient’s voice to become unusually husky, raspy, or hoarse.
Thus, laryngitis can make you sound different, in addition to making your throat hurt. The pain in your throat may be constant or aggravated by the movement of the vocal cords while talking or swallowing.
How long is laryngitis contagious?
Most cases of infectious laryngitis are viral in nature and can spread from one person to another quite easily.
Multiple strains of viruses can cause swelling in your voice box, and the period that a person remains contagious can vary depending upon the responsible virus.
Certain unhealthy habits and medical conditions can also irritate your larynx, leading to inflammation.
Irritation-induced laryngitis is not contagious and is usually associated with:
- Excessive smoking
- Acid reflux
- Excessive or incorrect use of your voice
Can excessive vomiting lead to laryngitis?
Excessive vomiting can cause temporary irritation of the throat and vocal cords. The backflow of stomach acids and other contents can damage the inner lining of the larynx and throat.
Unlike the lower part of the esophagus, the inside of the larynx and throat have no protective coating that can shield them from the corrosive action of digestive acids and juices.
Thus, the regurgitation of the acidic stomach contents during vomiting can cause swelling in your larynx.
Does severe coughing cause laryngitis?
This may be a chicken and egg scenario in some instances, as severe coughing can lead to laryngitis, and laryngitis can cause severe coughing.
Also, many of the causes, whether infectious or irritants, can lead to both laryngitis and coughing.
Can laryngitis lead to bronchitis?
Many of the viruses that cause laryngitis can cause bronchitis as well. Hence, it is not uncommon to see the two occurring together, as opposed to laryngitis directly leading to bronchitis.
Similarly, irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, allergies, and acid reflux that cause inflammation in your larynx can do the same damage in your lungs.
Thus, the same pathogen or irritant can trigger the simultaneous onset of laryngitis and bronchitis as it spreads through the respiratory tract.
Can laryngitis and earache occur at the same time?
Yes, laryngitis and earache can occur at the same time but not as commonly as seen in tonsillitis. The reason for ear pain may be twofold:
- The irritation caused by an inflamed larynx may travel to the ear through the same sensory route.
Because the nerves that provide sensation to the throat and larynx also provide sensation to the ear, any irritation of the throat (and larynx) may be felt in the ear as well.
This kind of referred pain is more commonly observed when both the larynx and throat become inflamed.
- Laryngitis may be accompanied by an earache if the inflammation affects both the lining of the upper throat (which is near the opening of the Eustachian tube located behind the nose) and the lining of the lower throat (which contains the larynx).
For example, the reflux of acid and food contents from your stomach can irritate the nasopharynx and larynx, thereby causing ear discomfort and hoarseness.
What is the difference between acute and chronic laryngitis?
Acute laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx that develops rapidly and is most often seen in an infectious setting.
Chronic laryngitis occurs when laryngitis persists for more than 3 weeks and continues to get exacerbated by irritants such as smoking, acid reflux, and allergies.
Is honey beneficial for laryngitis?
Due to the highly viscous consistency of honey, it is recognized as an effective lubricating agent that can soothe irritated or inflamed vocal cords.
When taken orally, honey washes over the swollen larynx and helps moisturize it from within. As a result, talking and swallowing become easier.
Additionally, honey is known to possess certain antibacterial properties, a low pH, high osmolarity, and the ability to produce hydrogen peroxide.
All of these properties contribute to its therapeutic action against bacteria-induced laryngitis.
It is very rare for a bacterial infection to cause laryngitis. However, when this happens, honey may help inhibit the growth of bacteria and curb the inflammation.
How to prevent laryngitis?
- The most common cause of infectious laryngitis is viral. Taking precautions such as hand washing, sleeping adequately, and eating healthy foods to support the immune system can help prevent infections.
- Smoking has deleterious effects on the lining of the throat and larynx. Smoking is not only a known carcinogen and irritant.
It can also increase acid reflux and lower the resistance of the lining of the vocal cords/larynx. This is the reason a lot of smokers have a hoarse voice and cough frequently.
Smoking cessation and limiting your exposure to secondhand smoke is important for many reasons, including preventing and treating laryngitis.
- Air pollution can also have a direct irritant impact on the larynx. People living in high pollution are more susceptible to laryngitis and other upper and lower airway infections and irritation.
Hence, it is advisable to limit exposure to air pollution in areas where this is a concern by wearing masks, staying indoors, and using air filters as necessary.
Standard Treatment for Laryngitis in Children and Adults
Most cases of laryngitis are mild and self-limiting and will go away with supportive care such as rest and fluids.
Medical assistance may be warranted in the following cases:
- Reflux of stomach contents (acid, enzymes) known as laryngopharyngeal reflux is a common cause of chronic laryngitis seen in ENT practice.
Hoarseness, throat clearing, foreign body sensation in the lower throat, and coughing are some of the symptoms.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes are the best way to control and curb these symptoms. Sometimes acid reflux suppressants may also be needed.
However, as the throat is very sensitive to any acid exposure, many weeks of treatment are needed to see positive results.
Lifestyle changes are the best and most sustainable way to control acid reflux leading to laryngitis.
These changes include eating small meals, especially dinner, not laying down for 2-3 hours after a meal, sleeping with the head elevated, avoiding certain foods, abstaining from smoking and alcohol, and losing weight.
- Allergies and chronic sinusitis can also lead to laryngitis. Controlling them can be helpful in avoiding laryngitis.
Control measures include allergen avoidance, taking antihistamines, sinus rinsing, and using inhalers and or nasal sprays as prescribed by your physician.
- Vocal cord abuse can also pave the way for laryngitis.
Individuals who use their voice a lot, such as singers, teachers, and public speakers, are prone to developing scars called vocal cord nodules that can lead to hoarseness.
Treating associated factors such as acid reflux and allergies, undergoing intense voice therapy, and voice rest can reverse the vocal cord nodules.
- If suffering from acute or chronic laryngitis, voice rest is advisable to prevent damage to the lining of the vocal cord.
A few days of voice rest are needed for acute laryngitis. For chronic laryngitis, more time is needed.
Voice therapy and voice hygiene measures such as avoiding throat clearing, appropriate hydration before using voice for speeches/singing, and refraining from excessive use, talking loudly, or screaming must also be implemented.
- Rest, plenty of fluids, and using honey to soothe the throat help limit the duration of hoarseness while suffering from acute laryngitis.
- Bacterial laryngitis is rare. In unimmunized children, it can lead to a deadly disease called epiglottitis, which can cause rapid swelling and blockage of the airway.
Children with an intense and sudden sore throat, drooling, and incomplete immunizations should be medically evaluated immediately.
- Antibiotics are not needed for most cases of acute laryngitis.
The only exceptions are for a very rare and severe form of laryngitis called acute epiglottitis (as described above) or bacterial laryngitis, which can sometimes be seen after an initial viral infection.
- Croup is a contagious viral infection that affects the larynx and part of the airway right below it.
This infection typically targets young children. Croup, which is accompanied by a characteristic barking cough and labored breathing, can lead to laryngitis.
The affected child may need medical evaluation and treatment with steam and steroids if the condition turns severe.
- Seek immediate medical attention for children showing signs of severe croup, high fever, difficulty breathing, and drooling.
- Adults usually present with chronic laryngitis. They should seek an ENT consultation if their hoarseness has not resolved in 3 weeks.
Smokers and alcoholics are at an increased risk of laryngeal cancer and, therefore, should be alert for any signs of persistent hoarseness.