With most cases of viral laryngitis occurring during the winter cold and flu season, a vocal health expert at the University of Michigan Health System is offering tips for preventing and treating the inflammation of the voice box.
"The type of voice change that can accompany the common cold and upper respiratory infection is something that is quite common, and I'm sure most everyone has experienced it at some point in their life," says Norman D. Hogikyan, M.D., F.A.C.S., director of the U-M Health System's Vocal Health Center and associate professor of otolaryngology and music.
Hogikyan notes that viral laryngitis is contagious and passes the same way as common colds and flu bugs. He suggests ways to avoid getting laryngitis in the first place, ways to treat it and not to aggravate it further, and offers suggestions for caring for your voice even when it's healthy.
7 things to know about laryngitis
• Viral laryngitis is contagious - as contagious, in fact, as a typical upper respiratory infection, Hogikyan says. "Avoiding getting viral laryngitis is really accomplished through the same ways you avoid getting a cold or a bug, and that means things like hand washing and avoiding direct contact with somebody who already has a cold or respiratory infection."
• Causes of other types of laryngitis include acid reflux, which can cause an inflammation in the vocal cords; bacterial infections; fungal or yeast infections; smoking; chemical irritants; and even excessively loud or prolonged use of the voice.
• Symptoms of a viral infection with laryngitis can include hoarseness, swollen glands in the neck and sometimes fever.
• Treatment for viral laryngitis focuses on limiting the amount of injury caused to the voice, Hogikyan notes. "We can't necessarily affect the viral infection itself, but we can try to limit the amount of irritation that it will cause to the voice, or, even more importantly, we can limit further injury that might occur by pushing the voice at a time when it's already hoarse," he says. The best advice, he says, is to rest your voice during this time.
• Another important aspect of treatment is hydration. Drink a lot of water and non-caffeinated beverages, Hogikyan says, because "moist is always good for the voice." A humidifier may also help.
• Drinking warm beverages and gargling salt water don't have any specific medicinal benefit, but they can feel soothing and comforting, Hogikyan says. "Also, having a good comfort level in your throat will prevent you from maybe using some voice or throat muscles in a way that might be more straining," he notes.
• While most viral laryngitis cases get better without lasting damage, some can lead to further health problems, such as vocal cord bleeding or the development of a "hemorrhagic polyp," a lesion on the vocal cords. The risk for further problems is increased by not resting your voice when you have laryngitis.
Hogikyan is a proponent of caring for your voice even when not caring for conditions such as laryngitis. Most people take their voices for granted until they have a problem, he notes.
"It's important for you to take care of your voice all of the time," he says. "It is your natural instrument."
He recommends staying well hydrated, not screaming or yelling, using microphones and other amplification when speaking or performing in front of a crowd, not smoking, using good breath support when you speak by filling your lungs with air regularly, and warming up the voice before using it with exercises such as tongue trills and humming.