You never really appreciate just how valuable your voice is … until you lose it. You can hear it coming – you may start to hear a bit of cracking or huskiness in your voice … and then croaking … until no sound comes out at all. Was it the enthusiastic cheering at your daughter’s soccer game that’s to blame? Or too much singing in the shower?
Laryngitis indicates a problem with your larynx (also called the voice box). Your larynx contains your vocal cords and is important for talking, breathing and swallowing. Inflammation or irritation from overuse or infection causes your vocal cords to swell and distorts the sounds that air carries over them – making your voice sound hoarse. If there is too much swelling you may not be able to make your voice heard at all.
Although it is annoying and can be painful, laryngitis usually isn’t serious. Laryngitis that lasts less than a few weeks is often caused by upper respiratory infection from a virus. Laryngitis caused by bacterial infection is actually quite rare.
Laryngitis usually gets better on its own. If you have hoarseness that doesn’t go away after a few weeks, make an appointment so that we can determine what is going on. Long-term (or chronic) laryngitis lasts longer than 3 weeks and can have various causes, such as allergies, smoking, acid reflux, exposure to toxins, post-nasal drip, alcohol, or more serious diseases.
One of the best ways to treat laryngitis, and certainly the simplest, is not talking – at all. Whispering does not actually rest your voice. In fact, it can actually agitate your vocal cords and make your hoarseness worse. If you have laryngitis, try communicating by writing or texting. You may also get some relief by using a cool mist humidifier and avoiding irritants like cigarette smoke. Antibiotics are only effective against infections caused by bacteria. Since almost all infections with laryngitis are caused by viruses, antibiotics likely won’t help.
Relief for Short-Term Laryngitis:
- Breathe moist air. Use a cool-mist humidifier to keep the air in your home or office moist. Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water or a hot shower.
- Rest your voice as much as possible. Avoid talking or singing too loudly or for too long. If you need to speak before large groups, use a microphone or megaphone.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration (avoid alcohol and caffeine).
- Moisten your throat. Try sucking on lozenges, gargling with salt water or chewing a piece of gum.
- Avoid decongestants. These medications can dry out your throat.
- Avoid whispering. This puts even more strain on your voice than normal speech does.