Most people have suffered from laryngitis at some point in their lives. The sore throat and loss of voice that mark the disorder typically clear in a few days and don’t leave a trace. This incidental, acute variety of laryngitis is the most common and requires little medical care and can usually be treated at home with voice rest and a combination of throat lozenges, cough medicine, or by treating the allergies or other factors that have caused the inflammation of the larynx.
In other cases, laryngitis can be chronic or cause issues that require medical attention. In cases of chronic laryngitis, which is marked by issues that last at least two weeks or are recurring, the expertise of an Otorhinolaryngologist better known as an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor is indispensable.
In this guide, we will walk you through a few examples of how an ENT can diagnose, test, and treat your laryngitis. We will discuss intersecting issues that can affect your symptoms, including but not limited to, asthma and allergies, and upper gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as GERD. Injury-based laryngitis that can be brought on by a host of factors including stress, but most likely come from strain and overuse of the voice, which is common in singers and performers.
What an ENT Specialist Can Do for You
If you have ever suffered from a cold, flu, or allergies then you are familiar with how intertwined the ear, nose, and throat are. It’s rare to have an issue with one of these that doesn’t affect them all. An ENT specialist can diagnose, treat, cure, and offer suggestions on this interconnected system tubes and passages. Additionally ENT’s are specialists in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the face, head, and neck.
Within the ear, nose, and throat specialization there are doctors that are generalists and those who specialize in a more drilled down focus of ENT issues such as an allergy and asthma doctors, laryngologists — who specialize in the throat most specifically — as well as restorative or plastic surgeons. While there are many other specialties within the ENT umbrella these are some of the most common.
A general ENT is the best place to start because this doctor will have more information than a primary care physician or endocrinologist about the specifics of what may be causing your laryngitis and have a more drilled down approach about how to treat or cure it. An ENT will also help you understand if your laryngitis is injury based or infection based.
Injury vs. Infection
The major causes of laryngitis can be broken down into the categories of injury vs infection and while there can be other causes most come down to one of these two umbrellas. The ENT can help you to determine what the root cause of the laryngitis is.
Injury-based laryngitis may come from prolonged exposure to chemicals or inhalants and may present as asthma or allergy symptoms. Injury-based laryngitis also often accompanies vocal strain. If you are an entertainer who spends a lot of time singing or shouting this is a common cause of vocal cord injury.
While vocal stress and strain is the most common cause of injury based laryngitis, it is not the only one. In rare cases, physical injury can cause or contribute to laryngitis and other ear, nose, and throat disorders. Rest assured that the ENT specialist is trained to assess both internal and external issues with the ears, nose, and throat. These external factors may present in athletes or in children who have sustained an injury during play or sports.
Laryngitis as a Symptom
One of the reasons it’s so important to see a specialist about laryngitis is because it is a disorder but it is also often a symptom. Due to the nature of inflammation of the voice box, it can be difficult to parse out the depth and breadth of how you are affected or even everything that is going on in your body.
Most commonly a cold or flu is to blame for laryngitis and it will clear on its own without medical intervention, however, distinguishing between cold or flu symptoms and allergy symptoms can be tricky. Both cold flu and allergies can cause coughing, sneezing, mucus, and lung discomfort that often accompanies the inflammation of the voice box.
While over-the-counter medications may alleviate much of the discomfort that comes with either cold or allergies, it’s important to understand that masking these symptoms with temporary solutions can make it more difficult to realize it’s time to see a doctor.
An ENT can provide a flu test, and also diagnose or rule out other serious illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia, strep throat, or upper respiratory infection. By testing for and ruling out these other related illnesses, the ENT can provide a more holistic treatment option.
Allergies and Asthma
Unlike most viral causes of laryngitis, allergies and asthma, while common, can be complex to diagnose and treat and can also mask itself under the umbrella of simple inflammation. To make it even trickier to discern, allergies and asthma most often go hand in hand. The vast majority of asthma sufferers have asthma that is triggered by contact with allergens, this allergic asthma may require two-pronged treatment that an ENT can give you starting with an allergy test.
During your allergy test, the ENT will expose you to very small amounts of common allergens in a controlled environment to gain a better understanding of which allergens are triggering your allergy or asthma symptoms. Common allergens that are tested for are various grasses, trees, tree nuts, flowers, and outdoor allergens as well as indoor allergens such as mold and dust mites. Prior to allergy testing, the ENT will talk to you about when and where these symptoms are most likely to occur.
As part of allergy testing or within a different battery of in-office testing the doctor will usually want to test your lung function and measure how opened or closed your large and small airways are. The ENT will compile the results of these exams along with the answers to your questions and be able to make a diagnosis and recommend treatments.
In some cases, the ENT doctor will determine that more testing is needed to be able to determine the cause of inflammation and the best treatment for it. These tests can include but are not limited to:
Strep Throat Test
Streptococcal Pharyngitis, commonly referred to as Strep Throat is a bacterial infection that shares many of the symptoms of laryngitis. Depending on the length and severity of symptoms an ENT doctor will want to make sure they can rule out Strep to ensure you are getting the proper treatment.
The test for Strep Throat is a simple throat swab. That swab may be tested using a rapid antigen test. Similarly, the throat swab may be examined as a culture to check for bacteria
Sleep Apnea Testing
Sleep Apnea is a disorder that affects the ability to breathe while sleeping. This disorder is often marked by aggressive snoring and shortness of breath over the sleeping hours that can present as laryngitis initially. An ENT doctor may want to diagnose or rule out Sleep Apnea.
Testing for sleep apnea will likely include some form of sleep study which is conducted at a hospital You stay in the hospital overnight and are monitored. While you are sleeping you may have your breathing monitored as well as blood pressure, the amount of oxygen in your blood, among other things.
Upper Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
An endoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to take a close look at an internal area of the body using a small tube with a camera attached to it. The patient is lightly sedated during the procedure. In the case of the Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy, the area being examined is the throat and esophagus. This test will be able to diagnose or rule out other disorders that may be affecting the upper GI lining and mimicking the effects of laryngitis.
As the old adage states, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Knowing how you can work with your ENT doctor to prevent future cases of laryngitis is paramount. A few things that you can start doing right away are to quit smoking and limit your exposure to second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke is one of the most common irritants that can contribute to laryngitis symptoms. Reducing your exposure to smoke can do wonders to prevent another bout of the condition.
Avoid exposure to irritants. If you are a singer or performer it’s important to schedule plenty of breaks into your performance and rehearsal schedules. If you work in an environment that requires making frequent announcements, lighten the strain on your voice by investing in a microphone or bull horn.
Be sure to moderate alcohol and remain hydrated. Introducing more water to your diet will do wonders for your overall health, but can also be one of the keys to reducing your risk of getting laryngitis again.
In addition to monitoring hydration, the importance of maintaining a healthy diet cannot be overstated. It may appear that diet has little to do with laryngitis and related illnesses but that isn’t the case. A healthier diet, that includes enough vitamins and is heavy in fruits, and vegetables decreases your odds of getting colds and upper respiratory infections that can lead to laryngitis. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet can reduce the period of illness if you should get sick.
Last, but certainly not least, be mindful of and try to avoid your exposure to chemicals. If you must be in construction or renovation related spaces, make sure that you are wearing a mask over your face.
We hope this guide to laryngitis and how an ENT specialist can diagnose and treat it was informative and helpful. The next step is to speak with one of our ENT specialists at Regional ENT Associates about your specific case. You don’t have to live with hoarseness and other symptoms of laryngitis. Let our team of qualified specialists in Gallatin and Lebanon give you back your voice. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!