A case of laryngitis that lasts for more than two weeks is generally considered chronic. If you experience hoarseness over a long period, it’s important to have it evaluated by an ENT voice specialist. Chronic laryngitis can result from simple strained voice, but it can also be caused by a variety of other underlying problems.
Actors, teachers, singers or others who too much or too loudly over a long period of time can experience an ongoing, unpleasant hoarseness. Even coaches or construction workers who need to shout a great deal can be affected. These types of work habits can give rise to vocal nodules, polyps or certain vocal injuries. Some other issues that can cause chronic laryngitis include:
Long term exposure to tobacco smoke can irritate the vocal cords, causing them to swell and thicken. This can make the voice sound raspy and, in some cases, have a lower pitch. Similar problems can be caused by ongoing exposure to second hand smoke or a work environment with poor air quality due to industrial chemicals.
Acid Reflux Disease
Known by doctors as either GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux), this condition causes acidic fluids from the stomach flowing back up into the esophagus or throat. It’s an uncomfortable condition that can cause heartburn, a sensation of having a lump in the throat, persistent cough or discomfort while swallowing. People with GERD often notice their hoarseness most when they wake up in the morning, because the acid reflux tends to build up as they lay down asleep all night.
On occasion, chronic postnasal drip can lead to laryngitis. In some instances, this can be due to hay fever or other allergies.
Excessive Alcohol or Coffee Consumption
Alcohol and caffeine are both chemicals that can irritate a larynx and cause hoarseness. The irritation results from dryness or reflux caused by these chemicals.
It’s important to determine the exact cause of chronic laryngitis before starting treatment. Vocal nodule treatment for singers may require a course of voice therapy, and more rarely may require surgery. Vocal cord polyps more commonly require surgery. Smokers, in particular, need to insure their symptoms aren’t due to cancer. If a vocal fold cancer is caught early, it can often be treated successfully without any surgery or radiation. And if the cause of your laryngitis is an upper respiratory infection, a prescription may be called for.
Diagnosis of your laryngitis will usually involve Dr. Korovin looking at your vocal folds through an endoscope – either a flexible scope passed in through the nose or a rigid one inserted through the mouth. The doctor may also use a laryngovideostroboscope to view the vibration of your focal folds in slow motion. Each of these examination is quick and free of pain.
Chronic laryngitis will often respond to the same treatment used for acute laryngitis. Your vocal cord doctor may recommend that you use speak or sing less for a time, drink more water or cut back on smoking and drinking. For professional singers, actors and attorneys who need their voices to return quickly, she may recommend treatment with steroids.
Other basic tips that can improve laryngitis include avoiding mentholated cough drops that irritate the vocal cords, not speaking on an airplane (which many professional singers know is a bad idea to due dry, pressurized cabin air) or a bus (where ambient noise tends to make one speak louder) and using a humidifier at home.
If you suffer from repeat episodes of laryngitis, Dr. Korovin may recommend that you make lifestyle changes to avoid second hand smoke, chemicals or other problems that may be irritating your throat.