The most common sign of laryngitis is hoarseness. Changes in your voice can vary with the degree of infection or irritation, ranging from mild hoarseness to almost total loss of your voice. If you have chronic hoarseness, your doctor may review your medical history and symptoms. He or she may want to listen to your voice and examine your vocal cords, and he or she may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
These techniques sometimes are used to help diagnose laryngitis:
- Laryngoscopy. In a procedure called laryngoscopy, your doctor can visually examine your vocal cords by using a light and a tiny mirror to look into the back of your throat. Or your doctor may use fiber-optic laryngoscopy. This involves inserting a thin, flexible tube (endoscope) with a tiny camera and light through your nose or mouth and into the back of your throat. Then your doctor can watch the motion of your vocal cords as you speak.
- Biopsy. If your doctor sees a suspicious area, he or she may do a biopsy — taking a sample of tissue for examination under a microscope.
Acute laryngitis often gets better on its own within a week or so. Self-care measures, such as voice rest, drinking fluids and humidifying your air, also can help improve symptoms.
Chronic laryngitis treatments are aimed at treating the underlying causes, such as heartburn, smoking or excessive use of alcohol.
Medications used in some cases include:
- Antibiotics. In almost all cases of laryngitis, an antibiotic won't do any good because the cause is usually viral. But if you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic.
- Corticosteroids. Sometimes, corticosteroids can help reduce vocal cord inflammation. However, this treatment is used only when there's an urgent need to treat laryngitis — such as in some cases when a toddler has laryngitis associated with croup.
You may also have voice therapy to learn to lessen behaviors that worsen your voice.
In some cases, you may need surgery.
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Lifestyle and home remedies
Some self-care methods and home treatments may relieve the symptoms of laryngitis and reduce strain on your voice:
- Breathe moist air. Use a humidifier to keep the air throughout 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, try to 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.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a pediatrician. You may be referred to a doctor trained in ear, nose and throat disorders.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance.
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember information you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For laryngitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- What are other possible causes?
- What tests do I need, if any?
- Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
- What is the best course of action?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions I need to follow?
- Should I see a subspecialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can take home? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you drink alcohol?
- Do you have allergies? Have you recently had a cold?
- Have you recently overused your vocal cords, such as by singing or shouting?