Laryngitis

Diagnosing laryngitis

Acute laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is usually a self-limiting condition. This means that the condition will get better by itself without the need for treatment. Therefore, a medical diagnosis is not usually required.

You will usually only need to contact your GP if:

  • you experience breathing difficulties,
  • you experience additional symptoms that suggest you have a more serious infection, such as high temperature (fever) above 38°C (100.4°F) and swollen glands (usually in the neck), or
  • your symptoms last for longer than three weeks.

Chronic laryngitis

If your symptoms last for longer than three weeks, your GP will probably ask you whether there are any lifestyle or occupational factors that could be causing your symptoms, such as:

  • smoking,
  • drinking alcohol,
  • overusing your voice, or
  • being exposed to potentially allergic substances.

Your GP may refer you for blood tests and take a small tissue sample from your throat using a swab (a small cotton bud with a plastic loop at the end) to check for the presence of a viral, bacterial or fungal infection.

If a reason for your chronic laryngitis cannot be found, you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for further testing.

Your ENT specialist may recommend an MRI scan, CT scan and a biopsy (where a sample of tissue is taken to check for the presence of cancerous cells) to rule out laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx).

It is important to confirm or rule out a diagnosis as soon as possible because the sooner laryngeal cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment will be.

Other tests that may be used include:

  • a skin allergy test to check whether you have an allergy to certain substances,
  • chest and neck X-ray to check for any abnormalities, such as an unusual narrowing or swelling of your larynx, and
  • laryngoscopy, which is a test where your larynx is examined using a mirror (an indirect laryngoscopy) or a fibre-optic camera (a direct laryngoscopy). It can be used to check if the tissue of the larynx has been damaged as a result of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or other causes.

A direct laryngoscopy is not painful, but the fibre-optic camera may trigger your gag reflex, which in turn can make you vomit.

The gag reflex is an automatic defence mechanism that your body uses to prevent you from accidentally choking on food. If your body suddenly senses an object near your larynx that could fall into your windpipe, you will suddenly feel a need to vomit to dislodge the object. 

To avoid this happening, the procedure is usually performed under sedation or local or general anaesthetic.

Glossary

Tissue
Body tissue is made up of groups of cells that perform a specific job, such as protecting the body against infection, producing movement or storing fat.  
Pain
Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign that it has been damaged.
Biopsy
A biopsy is a test that involves taking a small sample of tissue from the body so it can be examined.
Nodules
A nodule is a small growth or lump of tissue.
Benign
Benign refers to a condition that should not become life-threatening. In relation to tumours, benign means not cancerous.
Acute
Acute means occurring suddenly or over a short period of time.
Last updated: 04 October 2011

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