Laryngitis is the inflammation of your larynx, also called your voice box. Within your larynx sits your vocal folds. Normally, the vocal folds open and close, creating sound as air passes through and causes them to vibrate. If they become inflamed or irritated, the sound they create is distorted. This results in your voice sounding hoarse, often almost inaudible.
There are two types of laryngitis, short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Most cases are short-lived and caused by a viral infection, vocal strain or a bacterial infection. Chronic laryngitis is defined by an episode of laryngitis lasting longer than three weeks. This type is usually caused by prolonged exposure to an irritant, vocal strain or growths on the vocal folds. While less common, cancer, vocal cord paralysis or bowing of the vocal cords can also cause laryngitis. Vocal cord bowing, which usually only affects those over the age of 60, occurs when the cords become too weak to close completely.
The most common symptoms of laryngitis are hoarseness, a weak voice, a sore throat and a dry cough. If these symptoms last longer than two weeks you should consult with a doctor.
In order to diagnose laryngitis, your doctor will review your medical history and complete a physical exam. In order for your doctor to get a better look at your larynx, a laryngoscopy will be performed. There are two ways to perform a laryngoscopy. One involves a light and a series of mirrors positioned to allow your doctor to see down your throat. The second type is the preferred method and involves inserting an endoscope through your nose or mouth. The endoscope is a thin flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end. Either of these versions will enable your doctor to take a closer look and watch how your vocal cords react when you speak.
Acute laryngitis will usually get better on its own within a week with rest and proper hydration. The treatments for chronic laryngitis are aimed at treating the underlying cause, such as avoiding irritants. Corticosteroids can be used to reduce vocal cord inflammation and antibiotics may be used if caused by a bacterial infection.