Laryngitis, or laryngitis, is an infection of the larynx, which is part of the upper respiratory tract. In the following, the clinical picture with course and therapy is described in more detail.
What is laryngitis?
Schematic representation of the anatomy of the vocal cords and their various diseases.
Inflammation of the larynx is also known as laryngitis; the most common triggers are viruses or bacteria. Laryngitis is divided into the acute and chronic form, which is assessed by the ear, nose and throat doctor. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Laryngitis.
Acute laryngitis can often occur alongside bronchitis, sinusitis or a cold. In addition to the viral infection, a second bacterial infection then develops, which finally triggers the laryngitis.
Chronic laryngitis, on the other hand, can be present if the vocal folds have been inflamed for several weeks. The mucous membrane of the entire larynx is inflamed and swollen. Both forms are characterized by hoarseness, a dry cough and a sore throat.
In the acute form, the affected person has a hoarse voice or even lack of voice, pain when swallowing and a feeling of dryness in the throat. In the chronic form, a foreign body sensation in the throat is typical, as is a frequent dry cough.
In addition to the causes mentioned above, there are other causes such as smoking, excessive heat, pollutants in the air or voice overload. In most cases, however, viral pathogens are the cause of acute laryngitis, such as adenoviruses or rhinoviruses.
If the voice is not rested enough, chronic laryngitis can develop. Other causes of chronic laryngitis are long-term inhalation of chemicals (occupational) or tobacco smoke, constantly air-conditioned and relatively dry room air, breathing through the mouth, frequent colds or tonsillitis.
Singers can also suffer from overuse of the vocal cords.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The typical symptoms of laryngitis are a dry, hacking cough, a lump in the throat and severe hoarseness. The symptoms are triggered by inflammation of the larynx mucosa. A distinction is made between an acute and a chronic form.
Most symptoms of laryngitis are caused by viruses. If bacterial pathogens are added, this can lead to complications and significantly more severe symptoms. Rarely are bacterial pathogens exclusively responsible for the symptoms that occur. These usually occur as part of a severe cold or a flu-like infection.
The first signs that it is something more than an ordinary cold can be found in a barking cough and severe hoarseness. Breathing may be difficult. Severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing in the larynx or below also indicate infection in that area. A doctor should be consulted if symptoms worsen to the point of causing more difficulty breathing or a higher fever.
The symptoms of chronic laryngitis are similar, without an acute infection being the trigger. Rather, chronic irritation of the larynx mucosa is the cause of the persistent symptoms. People who come into frequent contact with harmful substances or inhale industrial exhaust gases, chronic smokers or people with chronic inflammation of the paranasal sinuses and bronchi often show all the symptoms of laryngitis.
Course of the disease
The course of a laryngitis can be positively influenced by rapid treatment. Especially when the causes are eliminated, nothing can stand in the way of a speedy recovery. For example, taking it easy on the voice is very supportive, even if no voice can be heard, speaking should be avoided as much as possible.
If the treatment is inconsistent, chronic inflammation can develop and even lead to a functional voice disorder. Normally, with proper and prompt treatment, laryngitis can proceed without complications.
In children, however, there is a risk of shortness of breath due to swelling of the vocal folds. In any case, laryngitis must be treated, as it can eventually become chronic and develop into a precancerous condition. Acute laryngitis should also be observed by a doctor.
Laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx) usually heals well after a few days with a little rest. However, complications can arise. In a particularly severe course, the vocal folds are covered with white fibrin. It is called fibrinous laryngitis. If there is a very severe inflammation, the vocal cords sometimes swell so much that acute shortness of breath occurs.
If the inner structures of the larynx are also inflamed, voice disorders can persist after they have subsided. These show up in a hoarse, breathy voice and rapid voice fatigue. The cause is an incomplete closure of the vocal folds, which can be restored with targeted vocal exercises. If bacteria are the cause of laryngitis, it can also be progressive. Phlegmons or abscesses form in the larynx.
The first symptoms are severe pain when swallowing, which often radiates into the ears. This is where antibiotics help. In extreme cases, the cartilage of the larynx is affected, leading to shortness of breath and severe pain when the larynx is touched. In addition to antibiotics, surgery is required to open the abscess.
If such laryngitis remains untreated, so-called Reinke’s edema sometimes develops over the course of the disease. It is a growth on the vocal cords that is filled with fluid. Reinke’s edema should be surgically removed.
When should you go to the doctor?
People who suffer from a sore throat and difficulty swallowing should see a doctor. If the symptoms persist for several days, if they increase in intensity or if they continue to spread, medical care should be initiated. Hoarseness, changes in vocalization and reduced vocal power must be checked and treated by a doctor. Patients can often only communicate in a whisper, since the impairment of the vocal cords is very severe and prevents them from making the usual sounds. If there is a dry cough with or without sputum, it is advisable to see a doctor.
If you clear your throat frequently, have a scratchy sensation in your throat or a foreign body sensation in your throat, you should consult a doctor to clarify the symptoms. A feeling of illness, a general malaise and an inner weakness should be examined by a doctor. If there is a fever or an increased body temperature, a doctor’s visit is required to clarify the cause. If you refuse to eat or drink, lose weight, or feel dry inside, see a doctor as soon as possible. There is an undersupply of the organism that needs to be treated. If there is a reduction in the usual level of performance, sleep disorders, increased irritability or an increased need for sleep, a doctor should be consulted.
Treatment & Therapy
A laryngitis must be treated in any case! Pollutants should be avoided, especially if you are also a smoker. Hot spices or alcohol are just as irritating. If the workplace is the reason for the laryngitis, it may be that an improvement only occurs after a change of job, or that further laryngitis or a chronic one can be avoided.
Inflammation during a cold or bronchitis should of course also be treated. It is possible that it may even need to be treated with antibiotics. To make it easier to cough up tough mucus, your family doctor will also prescribe secretion-dissolving and anti-swelling medication.
Since dry air promotes laryngitis, steam inhalation is also recommended. You should – especially then – breathe through your nose. Since children are at risk of shortness of breath, they should stay in the hospital for a few days as a precaution. If overexertion is the trigger of laryngitis, correct use of the voice can possibly be learned from a speech therapist.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis of laryngitis is favorable. Under optimal conditions, the disease heals completely within a few days. In most cases, consequential damage or impairments are not to be expected. Medical care is not mandatory. With sufficient rest and protection, the affected person often experiences relief of the symptoms within a short time and then freedom from symptoms. Refraining from consuming harmful substances such as nicotine improves the recovery process considerably.
If you have a weakened immune system or other existing diseases, it is advisable to consult a doctor. This supports the healing process by administering medicines and can provide important information on how to deal with the disease in general.
In exceptional cases, an unfavorable course of the disease develops. In these patients, a surgical intervention is necessary in addition to the administration of medication. If an abscess has formed, it will be opened during the operation. This allows fluids that have formed to be sucked out and the symptoms to be alleviated. If edema has developed, this is also surgically removed. If no further complications occur during an operation, the patient is usually discharged from treatment within a few days as cured. It still takes a little rest for regeneration and a subsequent check-up visit. The freedom to complain then also applies here.
Acute laryngitis can only be prevented to a limited extent, since it is usually a sudden accompanying illness of colds.
However, this can be prevented with a strong immune system, for example through exercise, a healthy diet and fresh air. At the first signs of laryngitis, a doctor should be consulted to treat it as soon as possible.
When working with pollutants, protective masks should always be worn and smoking should be stopped if you are susceptible. Singers should pay attention to the correct use of their voice.
The healing of laryngitis can be optimized through consistent follow-up care and its flare-up can be prevented as part of prevention. Contact persons for the patient in this context are the ENT doctor, but also the family doctor. In some cases, going to the practice for speech therapy also proves to be helpful.
Follow-up care is closely linked to the cause of the laryngitis. If the reason was an infection, it is also part of the aftercare to stabilize the immune system again. This is achieved through sufficient sleep, a healthy diet and exercise in the fresh air. If the laryngitis was caused by heavy vocal strain and has also affected the vocal cords, the speech therapist can improve speaking practice. In particular, occupational groups that have to speak a lot benefit from this and can prevent renewed laryngitis in many cases.
In any case, smoking should be avoided after laryngitis in order not to further affect the irritated region. Sufficient liquid and sucking on sweets, for example with sage, are ideal. Hot milk with honey, a classic among home remedies, can also be included in aftercare. It moisturizes the mucous membranes and can stop bacterial growth. Whispering and clearing your throat are not recommended during and after laryngitis.
You can do that yourself
If you suspect laryngitis, you should first consult a doctor. The medical treatment can then be supported by some self-help measures and home remedies.
Bed rest and warmth apply first. The larynx should not be put under too much strain for a few days so that the inflammation can heal without complications. A warm larynx is best achieved with warm compresses or a hot, damp towel. Since dry air affects the mucous membranes, the humidity in the bedroom should be adjusted. This works best with a humidifier or damp cloths over the heater. Classic remedies such as warm milk with honey or herbal tea relieve the pain. Inhaling steam helps against throat attacks, preferably with additives such as anise, eucalyptus, fennelor chamomile. Small sips of cool water are recommended for acute symptoms. Hot water helps too – a glass with some lemon juice and diluted tea and the pain should go away.
Caffeine and nicotine should be avoided during laryngitis. Vitamins and an overall healthy and balanced diet are better. If the symptoms do not go away despite all these measures, we recommend a visit to the doctor.