Laryngitis - what to do?

The term laryngitis refers to inflammation of the lining of the larynx. Acute laryngitis with the typical symptoms of hoarseness and coughing often occurs with viral infections of the respiratory tract. But there are also chonic forms

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Laryngitis - in short

Acute laryngitis is usually the result of a viral infection. Typical symptoms are hoarseness and cough. Acute laryngitis can usually be treated with simple means such as protecting the voice, steam inhalations and expectorant and anti-inflammatory drugs. It usually heals within a few days without any consequences. In the case of the infrequent bacterial concomitant disease, the doctor also prescribes an antibiotic. If the larynx mucous membrane swells considerably, it can also lead to shortness of breath in rare cases. In these cases, therapy takes place in the hospital. The anti-inflammatory agent cortisone usually has to be given to reduce the swelling of the mucous membrane.

Chronic laryngitis can result, for example, from smoking, pollutants in the air we breathe, constant excessive and improper stress on the voice, or from the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus and throat. The treatment here depends on the cause.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an acute or long-term (chronic) inflammation of the lining of the larynx. Typical symptoms are hoarseness and cough.

The larynx: The epiglottis protrudes over the hyoid bone (yellowish) (red). Below are the thyroid and the smaller cricoid cartilage (both gray-blue)

© W & B / Kühn

Whether singing, speaking or screaming: the larynx is very much involved in the formation of sounds. It is located above the windpipe and is divided into three sections: In the upper section is the epiglottis. This cartilage closes the larynx entrance during swallowing. It prevents food from getting into the windpipe. In the middle of the larynx are the vocal folds, the lower section of the larynx merges into the trachea. The thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage underneath form the framework of the larynx. In men, the thyroid cartilage often appears as a so-called "Adam's apple" on the outside of the neck.

Don't overdo it: Loud growls can damage your voice

© Plainpicture GmbH

Causes and Risk Factors

Acute laryngitis (laryngitis) often develops as part of virus-induced inflammation of the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold. Bacteria can rarely play a role.Mechanical or chemical stimuli, for example short-term, strong stress on the voice from loud talking or screaming, dry air and harmful substances such as cigarette smoke or irritant gases can trigger acute laryngitis.

If the lining of the larynx is continuously irritated, for example by cigarette smoke, chronic laryngitis can develop. Other typical triggers for chronic laryngitis are pollutants in the air we breathe, such as industrial exhaust fumes, as well as persistent, excessive or incorrect stress on the voice from singing or long or loud talking. The backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus and throat (laryngitis posterior) is one of the rarer causes.

Symptoms of acute laryngitis

Acute inflammation of the larynx (laryngitis) causes hoarseness and coughing. Some people also report having a scratchy or sore throat. If the larynx mucous membrane swells significantly, there is also shortness of breath. However, this is very rarely the case.

If there is a shortage of air, please call the emergency doctor!

In addition to simple, acute laryngitis, there are various special forms. Bacterial inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis) and subglottic laryngitis (pseudocroup) that occur in children are particularly dangerous.

Epiglottitis develops very quickly with a high fever. Sometimes shortness of breath also occurs. Those affected, mostly children, talk "lumpy" and complain of severe pain when swallowing. Because even swallowing saliva is difficult for them, spit sometimes runs out of their mouths. If the inflammation continues, the entrance to the larynx can swell completely, causing the person to suffocate if appropriate measures are not taken. Since epiglottitis is usually bacterial caused by the pathogen Haemophilus influenzae, it must be treated with antibiotics. Medical help should therefore always be sought if symptoms occur.

Pseudocroup (acute subglottic laryngitis) occurs predominantly in infants and young children. The inflammation manifests itself as a barking, convulsive cough, which usually occurs at night, and shortness of breath. A doctor should also be called in the event of a pseudo croup attack, as there is a risk of suffocation. In rare cases, a tracheotomy may be necessary.

Pst! In the case of acute laryngitis, it is essential to protect your voice

© Jupiter Images GmbH / Goodshot

What to do in case of acute laryngitis

Which home remedies help with acute laryngitis?

Acute laryngitis usually develop as part of a viral infection and usually heal without consequences after a few days. Anyone who is hoarse for more than about three weeks must definitely see a doctor!

If you have an acute laryngitis, the following tips may help:

  • Save your voice! Speak as little as possible. Do not whisper, it will damage your voice.
  • Inhale regularly, for example with salt water.
  • Do not smoke! Avoid situations with high levels of dust and cigarette smoke!
  • Make sure there is sufficient humidity in the room, for example by hanging damp, sprinkled cloths over the heater or by placing small water bowls there. But be careful: These air humidification measures should not last too long - if mold forms, it can lead to respiratory problems, especially in allergy sufferers.
  • Drink enough to prevent the mucous membranes from drying out!
  • Support your immune system by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (around five palm-sized portions a day).
  • If the nose is blocked, use nasal decongestant nasal sprays, but not for more than a few days to a week. With long-term use, these sprays can damage the nasal mucosa. For infants and young children, you should talk to the doctor or pharmacist about the appropriate dosage, because sprays for adults are not suitable for them.

Treatment of acute laryngitis with shortness of breath

If the laryngitis causes acute shortness of breath, hospital treatment may be necessary. Here the doctors can treat the sick person with effective drugs such as cortisone. In addition, the addition of oxygen to the breath is usually useful. If the swelling of the mucous membrane in the larynx causes considerable shortness of breath, intubation must be performed.