Chronic laryngitis has several causes

DEAR DOCTOR K: What could be causing my chronic laryngitis? And what can I do about it?

DEAR READER: Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx – the “voice box” that contains the vocal cords. The condition is called chronic laryngitis when hoarseness, the most common symptom, lasts for at least two weeks.

Chronic laryngitis isn’t caused by infection. Among adults, the most common causes of chronic laryngitis are:

• Voice abuse or misuse: Talking too much or too loudly.

• Smoking

• Drinking alcohol heavily

• Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

• Work-related exposure to chemicals or dusts that irritate the vocal cords.

To figure out what’s causing your chronic laryngitis, your doctor will review your symptoms.

Your doctor will ask for a list of all medications you take. Some medications, including antihistamines and cough suppressants, can cause hoarseness.

Your doctor will examine your mouth, throat, nose, ears and the lymph nodes in your neck. He or she will carefully examine your larynx. Additional tests may check for acid reflux.

Hoarseness that doesn’t go away or keeps coming back can be a symptom of certain cancers.

If your condition is due to voice overuse, avoid long bouts of shouting or uninterrupted talking. Also consider voice therapy, which teaches you to speak in ways that won’t injure your vocal cords.

If GERD is the culprit, ask your doctor about strategies to control your reflux and reduce your stomach acid.

Though hoarseness may seem like a minor inconvenience, it’s important to avoid the factors that irritate your larynx. If you don’t, you may develop small nodules or polyps on your vocal cords that can cause permanent hoarseness and may need to be surgically removed. That surgery is typically quite successful.

To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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