Laryngitis

Medically reviewed by Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Laryngitis signs and diagnosis

Laryngitis symptoms12 usually onset abruptly and worsen over 2–3 days. Common symptoms include:

  • Hoarseness: the most common sign of laryngitis. Depending on the degree of infection or irritation, your voice can range from mild hoarseness to total loss of voice (aphonia)
  • Pain in the throat, especially after talking
  • Dysphagia (trouble swallowing) or odynophagia (painful swallowing)
  • Dry irritating cough that worsens at night

In the case of laryngitis caused by an infection, your symptoms may include those of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and rhinorrhea (a runny nose).

If you have chronic hoarseness, your provider can listen to your voice or check your vocal cords to help you understand the cause and severity of the problem. Your provider may also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.

Laryngitis diagnosis

Laryngitis can be diagnosed using the following tests:

  • Laryngoscopy13: Your provider will examine your vocal cords by using a light directed at the back of your throat to look for signs of what’s causing your symptoms.

Your provider may also use fiber-optic laryngoscope (a long, flexible tool with a light and camera on its end) to watch how your vocal cords move as you speak.

  • Biopsy: If your provider sees a suspicious area of tissue, he or she may perform a biopsy, which involves examining a small sample of tissue for malignant (cancerous) cells.

What is laryngeal cancer?

Laryngeal cancer14 is a type of throat cancer that occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the larynx.

Laryngeal cancer arises when the cells in your larynx develop genetic mutations. While old cells normally die, gene mutation15 can cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, forming new, abnormal cells. This accumulation of cells can form a mass of tissue, or tumor, in the throat.

Laryngeal cancer is relatively rare. Based on data from 2014–2016, approximately 0.3% of people16 will be diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in their lifetime.

A clear association17 has been made between the development of laryngeal cancer and tobacco and alcohol use. The risk of developing laryngeal cancer decreases for smokers after they stop smoking. However, their risk still remains higher than that of nonsmokers even years after quitting.

If a patient has had one type of cancer and continues to smoke and drink alcoholic beverages, the effectiveness of treating the initial cancer is lessened, increasing the risk for developing a second tumor.

There are multiple ways your provider may go about diagnosing laryngeal cancer18:

  • Laryngoscopy: Your provider may use a lighted scope to get a close look at your throat during a procedure. A tiny camera or lens at the end of the scope can show your provider signs of abnormalities.

This is the same procedure that can be used to diagnose laryngitis.

  • Biopsy: A sample may be collected from the larynx for testing to determine whether tissue is malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).

  • Imaging tests: X-ray, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) are imaging tests that can help your provider determine the extent of your cancer beyond the surface of your throat or voice box.

When a cancerous tumor is small, it can be treated using surgery or radiation therapy19.

When the tumor grows larger or spreads to the lymph nodes, radiation and chemotherapy are often used to kill cancer cells while causing as little damage to the voice box as possible.

If this is not a viable treatment option, the voice box can be removed with surgery (a laryngectomy). Voice rehabilitation20 can help improve a patient’s ability to speak after a laryngectomy.

You may need one or more of the following supportive treatments for laryngeal cancer:

  • Speech therapy

  • Therapy to help with swallowing and chewing

  • Learning to maintain a healthy weight21 by talking to your provider or a dietitian

  • Alleviating dry mouth

Disclaimer: The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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