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When you have laryngitis, your larynx or voice box and the area around it becomes inflamed, irritated, and swollen. The swelling of your vocal chords causes them to make distorted sounds, so that your voice sounds hoarse. You may find yourself unable to speak above a whisper, or even lose your voice entirely for a few days.
Laryngitis rarely causes serious problems in adults. It's usually caused by a cold or other virus and goes away by itself. But it can cause complications in children -- notably croup, a swelling of the throat that narrows the airways and causes a "barking" cough. Chronic hoarseness could also be a sign of something more serious.
Signs and Symptoms
Certain viruses or bacteria can infect the larynx and cause it to swell. Usually, the virus comes from another illness, such as a cold, the flu, or bronchitis. Chronic laryngitis can be caused by heavy smoking, excessive use of alcohol, or acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD), caused when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.
Your doctor will examine your throat and take a culture if it looks infected. If you have had laryngitis for a long time, especially if you are a smoker, your doctor do a test called a laryngoscopy, using a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera to look in the back of your throat.
In most cases, you can treat laryngitis yourself by resting your voice. Antibiotics are almost never needed because most cases of laryngitis are caused by a virus.
Medications are rarely needed for laryngitis. However, depending on the cause of your laryngitis, your doctor may prescribe:
Antibiotics -- for laryngitis resulting from a bacterial infection
Antihistamines or inhaled steroids -- for laryngitis resulting from allergies
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
Since supplements may have side effects or interact with medications, they should be taken only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
Some herbs may help shorten the length of a cold or possibly lessen your chances of getting one, which might also help your throat if your laryngitis is due to a cold. See the article on "Common Cold."
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care practitioner.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) -- Eucalyptus is used in many remedies to treat cold symptoms, particularly cough, but it may also help soothe a sore or irritated throat. It can be found in many lozenges, cough syrups, and vapor baths throughout the United States and Europe. You can also use fresh leaves in teas and gargles to soothe sore throats. Don't take eucalyptus oil by mouth because it can be poisonous.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) -- Licorice root is a traditional treatment for sore throat, although scientific evidence is lacking. Licorice interacts with a number of medications, so ask your doctor before taking it. People with high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or heart disease, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and those who take blood-thinners such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin) should not take licorice.
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) -- Although there isn’t any scientific evidence that it works, marshmallow has been used traditionally to treat sore throat and cough. It contains mucilage, which coats the throat and may help relieve irritation.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) -- Like eucalyptus, peppermint is widely used to treat cold symptoms. Its main active agent, menthol, is a good decongestant, but peppermint is also soothing for sore throats and dry coughs. Don't use peppermint or menthol with infants. Do not take peppermint oil by mouth.
Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) -- Slippery elm may help ease a sore throat and has been used traditionally for this purpose, although scientific evidence is lacking. Like marshmallow, it contains mucilage, which coats the throat and relieves irritation. Slippery elm may affect how your body absorbs some medications, so wait at least one hour after taking any other medications before taking slippery elm. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid slippery elm.
Some people may find relief gargling these teas:
There have been few studies examining the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for laryngitis based on his or her knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type. In homeopathic terms, a person's constitution is his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
Warnings and Precautions
If you have problems breathing or swallowing, or if your throat bleeds, seek emergency medical attention. Call your health care provider if you have a fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prognosis and Complications
For adults, laryngitis rarely causes serious problems. Two conditions that may occur in children, however, include:
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Review Date: 9/25/2011
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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