Paging Dr. Frischer: Laryngitis

Laryngitis: we’ve all experienced what it’s like to lose our voice. What causes it? How can it be prevented? Can it be treated?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx. Inside the larynx are the vocal cords: two folds of mucous membranes that cover muscle and cartilage. When functioning normally, they open and close smoothly, forming sounds through movement and vibration. With laryngitis, however, the vocal cords become inflamed and irritated. This swelling causes a distortion of the sounds produced. Classic laryngitis symptoms are hoarseness, a weak voice or no voice, a tickling sensation and rawness of the throat, sore throat, dry throat and dry cough. 

Causes of laryngitis include:
·Respiratory infections, such as a cold, bronchitis or sinusitis
·Inhaled irritants, such as smoke, cigarettes, chemical fumes, or allergens
·Excessive drinking
·Acid reflux (heartburn),
·Overuse, such as speaking too much or too loudly, shouting, or singing
·Extremely rare causes include infections with parasites, bacteria and fungus; vocal cord paralysis; and cancer.

Diagnosing laryngitis is easy: if you lose your voice, you’ve got it. Chronic laryngitis (laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks) can be worrisome. Its very presence can cause vocal cord strain and injuries, or growths on the vocal cords such as polyps or nodules. An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist may perform a laryngoscopy, which uses a light and a very small mirror to view the larynx. A fiberoptic laryngoscopy will reveal even more details.

Most treatments for laryngitis are simple. Rest the voice, breathe moist air, suck on lozenges, avoid decongestants that can further dry out the throat, avoid whispering, and drink plenty of fluids. Laryngitis generally gets better on its own within a week or so.

Treatments for chronic laryngitis, however, focus on treating the underlying causes. Think prevention:

·Do not smoke (did you need yet another reason?)
·Limit alcohol and caffeine
·Drink plenty of water
·Avoid eating excessive amounts of spicy foods
·Eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as they contain Vitamins A, E, and C. These help to keep the mucus membranes that line the throat healthy
·Avoid clearing your throat - this does more harm than good. Clearing the throat causes it to secrete more mucus, and feel more irritated
·Avoid upper respiratory infections by washing your hands, and avoid contact with people who exhibit symptoms of illness

See your doctor if your laryngitis symptoms don’t resolve, or if you are having trouble breathing, cough up blood, have a persistent fever, increasing pain, or trouble swallowing. Take care of your voice.

Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.