What is acute laryngitis?

Laryngitis in children: Overview

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box (larynx) that causes your child's voice to become raspy or hoarse. Most of the time, laryngitis comes on quickly and lasts as long as 2 weeks. It is caused by overuse, irritation, or infection of the vocal cords inside the larynx.

Some of the most common causes are a cold, the flu, or allergies. Loud talking, shouting, cheering, or singing also can cause laryngitis. Stomach acid that backs up into the throat also can make your child lose their voice.

Resting the voice and taking other steps at home can help your child get their voice back.

Laryngitis

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx. Laryngitis is usually caused by a virus, such as a cold, and is temporary, going away within a week or two.

The larynx is located in the throat just above the windpipe (trachea) and is made up of cartilage, ligaments, and muscles. The two vocal cords in the larynx are covered with a mucous membrane. When air passes through the vocal cords, they vibrate and produce sound. When the larynx is inflamed or injured, the voice may be raspy, hoarse, or lower in pitch, or it may be only a whisper. Sometimes a person with laryngitis has no voice at all.

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

The main symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness. Your voice may sound raspy, be deeper than normal, or break now and then. You may lose your voice completely. Other symptoms may include a dry or sore throat, coughing, and trouble swallowing.

How is laryngitis treated?

With most cases of laryngitis, home treatment is all that you need.

  • Rest your voice as much as you can. When you have to talk, speak softly but don't whisper. (Whispering irritates your larynx more than speaking softly.) Don't talk on the telephone or speak loudly unless you have to.
  • Try not to clear your throat. If you have a dry cough, a nonprescription cough suppressant may help.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Don't smoke. And stay away from other people's smoke.

If acid reflux (GERD) is causing your laryngitis, you may need to take steps to reduce the reflux.

Chronic laryngitis may need more treatment. For example, if you keep getting laryngitis because of a problem with the way you talk or sing, you may need speech training. This can help you change habits that can cause laryngitis. It can also help your larynx heal.

You may need surgery if your vocal cords have been damaged, such as by sores or polyps.

How is laryngitis diagnosed?

A doctor will check your symptoms and listen to your voice. Your doctor may also do an exam. During the exam, the doctor may feel your neck for lumps and check your nose, mouth, ears, and throat.

If you have voice problems and hoarseness that don't have an obvious cause and that last longer than 2 weeks, your doctor may refer you to a specialist (otolaryngologist). The way your vocal cords look and the sound of your voice will help the specialist find out if your laryngitis will go away on its own or if you need treatment.

How can you care for your child who has laryngitis?

  • Follow your doctor's directions for treating the condition that caused your child to lose his or her voice.
  • Have your child rest his or her voice. Your child does not have to stop speaking but should use his or her voice as little as possible. Teach your child to speak softly but not whisper; whispering can bother the larynx more than speaking softly. Have your child avoid talking on the telephone or trying to speak loudly.
  • Have your child drink plenty of water to keep the throat moist.
  • Be careful with cough and cold medicines. Don't give them to children younger than 6, because they don't work for children that age and can even be harmful. For children 6 and older, always follow all the instructions carefully. Make sure you know how much medicine to give and how long to use it. And use the dosing device if one is included.
  • If your child has acid reflux, try to keep stomach acid from backing up into the throat. Have your child avoid eating just before bedtime. Have your child avoid or limit foods such as tomatoes, spicy foods, and chocolate. If the doctor says to, giving over-the-counter acid reducers can help when these steps are not enough. In some cases, your child may need prescription medicine.
  • Tell your child to try not to clear his or her throat. This can cause more irritation of the larynx. Use an over-the-counter cough suppressant (if your doctor recommends it) if your child has a dry cough that does not produce mucus.
  • If your child has problems breathing because of a stuffy nose, squirt a few saline (saltwater) nasal drops in one nostril. For older children, have your child blow his or her nose. Repeat for the other nostril. For infants, put a drop or two in one nostril. Using a soft rubber suction bulb, squeeze air out of the bulb, and gently place the tip of the bulb inside the baby's nose. Relax your hand to suck the mucus from the nose. Repeat in the other nostril. Do not do this more than 5 or 6 times a day.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx (say "LAIR-inks"), that causes your voice to become raspy or hoarse.

Laryngitis can be short-term or long-lasting (chronic). Most of the time, it comes on quickly and lasts no more than 2 weeks.

Chronic symptoms are those that last 2 weeks or longer. Check with your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. Laryngitis may be due to other causes.

What causes laryngitis?

Laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Colds or the flu. This is the most common cause.
  • Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Overuse of your voice, such as cheering at a sports event.
  • Irritation, such as from allergies or smoke.
  • Use of inhaled steroid medicines (such as those used to treat asthma).
  • Problems with the way you talk or sing.

Acid reflux is the most common cause of chronic laryngitis. But chronic laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems such as nerve damage, sores, polyps, cancer, or hard and thick lumps (nodules) on your vocal cords. The vocal cords are the vibrating elastic bands inside the larynx that produce your voice.

Some hoarseness may occur naturally with age as your vocal cords loosen and grow thinner.

Laryngitis in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child has trouble swallowing.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.