Laryngitis is caused by an inflammation of the voice box (larynx). As the area around the vocal cords swells, they can't vibrate normally, so the voice sounds hoarse and painful; in some cases, the patient can't speak at all.
Laryngitis is a very common problem, and often occurs during a cold. It is almost always caused by the same viruses which cause most colds. Very rarely, bacteria such as Group A streptococcus may cause laryngitis. In people with faulty immune systems (particularly people with AIDS), fungal infections may beresponsible for laryngitis.
Symptoms usually appear at the same time as cold symptoms, and include sore,scratchy throat, fever, runny nose, achiness, and tiredness. Problems in swallowing sometimes occur with streptococcal infections. The patient may cough and wheeze. Most often, the patient's voice will sound strained and hoarse. This is most common in infants, because the diameter of their airways is so small. In that case, the baby may breathe much faster and with a loud high-pitched sound (called stridor).
A doctor can diagnose laryngitis from a patient history of a cold followed byhoarseness. The throat usually appears red and somewhat swollen. Listening to the chest and back with a stethoscope may reveal some harsh wheezing soundsas the patient inhales.
If the laryngitis lingers for a long time, the doctor may suspect tuberculosis. Examining the airway will reveal redness, swelling, small bumps of tissuecalled nodules, and irritated pits in the tissue called ulcerations.
Simple viral laryngitis is treated by easing symptoms. Patients can gargle with warm salt water, take pain relievers such as acetaminophen, use vaporizersto create moist air, and rest. Rarely, an infant who is clearly struggling for air may need to have an artificial airway for a short period.
A patient with tubercular laryngitis is treated with a combination of drugs used to treat classic TB. Patients with fungal laryngitis may need a variety of anti-fungal medications.
Alternative treatments include decoctions (extracts made by boiling an herb in water) or infusions (extracts made by steeping an herb in boiling water) can be made with red sage and yarrow or with licorice. These are used for gargling, and are said to reduce pain. Echinacea tincture taken in water every hour for 48 hours is recommended to boost the immune system. Antiviral herbs, including lomatium and ligusticum, may help hasten recovery from laryngitis. Some people may get relief from placing cold compresses on the throat. Most patients recover from laryngitis within a week.
A person can prevent laryngitis in the same way as any common cold, by washing hands often, avoiding touching the face and nose as much as possible, and by disinfecting household surfaces commonly touched by others such as door handles and telephone receivers. However, even with relatively good hygiene practices, most people will get about five to six colds per year. It's hard to tell which of these may lead to laryngitis.