When the vocal cords become inflamed, they swell and can cause hoarseness and, in rare cases, airway obstruction.
Usually laryngitis is caused by the attack of certain viruses, but it can also occur as an accessory condition of an infection of bacterial origin, influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis or a simple cold.
Laryngitis can often be associated with an upper airway infection, but does not normally give symptoms of respiratory distress
Other causes of laryngitis can be laryngeal paralysis, vocal cord polyps, tumours, changes in the vocal mucosa, certain traumas and allergies.
In case of laryngeal paralysis, dyspnoea (difficulty breathing) of the insipiratory type (when air is inhaled towards the lungs) may appear, while when the upper part of the larynx towards the tongue is affected, dysphagia (pain when swallowing) may appear.
Warning. When a loss of voice appears that persists beyond 15 days, despite medical treatment and especially when the patient presents risk factors (smoker, alcohol drinker), it is necessary to see an ENT specialist.
Symptoms of laryngitis
The most frequent and typical symptoms of laryngitis are fever, hoarseness (perhaps the most obvious symptom, which is easily linked to this condition), recurrent infections of the oral cavity, enlarged lymph nodes or glands in the neck.
Examinations and treatment of laryngitis
To formulate a diagnosis of laryngitis, fibre-optic laryngoscopy is generally required, which is a painless and very quick examination (it lasts a few seconds).
A camera several millimetres in diameter is introduced through the patient’s mouth or nose (rigid and flexible endoscope).
In this way, the video of the examination can be viewed and recorded and an accurate diagnosis can always be made.
Since most laryngitis is of viral origin, the prescribed therapy cannot be based on antibiotics, but it is the doctor who will propose the most appropriate treatment for the situation at hand.
In any case, it may be helpful to keep the vocal cords at rest to reduce inflammation, using analgesics and decongestants, which may improve the symptoms of burning with the infection.
The prognosis is good: in laryngitis that occurs without complications, the infection is completely eradicated without any problems; only in rare cases, when there is a serious respiratory problem, may it be necessary to intervene surgically.
Prevention of laryngitis
The prevention of laryngitis is essentially based on preventing its causes, first of all by avoiding exposure to agents that can cause upper respiratory tract infections during the winter or by guarding against flu epidemics; quitting smoking helps prevent cancers of the respiratory system and, therefore, also of the larynx.
Good hand hygiene and refraining from frequenting crowded places or people with respiratory problems also prevents viruses from attacking the larynx and thus causing inflammation and infection.