Have you ever experienced a sudden change in your voice, leaving you with a raspy or weak tone? If so, you might have found yourself wondering whether you’re dealing with laryngitis or hoarseness. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same and are distinct vocal issues with varying underlying causes and treatments. To shed light on these differences, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Dr. Alicia Sanderson, an otolaryngologist with CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat, to gain a better understanding of laryngitis and hoarseness and how to care for your precious vocal cords.
What is Laryngitis?
Laryngitis is a condition characterized by inflammation or swelling of the vocal cords, which are located in the larynx or voice box. This inflammation can lead to a variety of symptoms. Dr. Sanderson clarified what laryngitis actually is. “Laryngitis can be caused by a variety of things that ultimately result in inflammation. Things like cold or flu, strain, allergens, smoke,” Dr. Sanderson explains. “That inflammation from things like these can lead to a swelling of the vocal cords, resulting in changes to your voice. These changes often manifest as hoarseness, making it easy to confuse the two conditions.
What is Hoarseness?
Hoarseness, on the other hand, is a symptom of an underlying problem rather than a standalone condition. Dr. Sanderson describes hoarseness as a change in the quality of the voice, characterized by roughness, raspiness, or a strained sound. It’s usually caused by an issue affecting the vocal cords themselves or the surrounding structures.
It’s a symptom rather than a specific condition. Hoarseness can be caused by various factors. Aside from laryngitis, it can result from overuse or misuse of the voice, such as yelling or excessive talking. Other potential causes include growths on the vocal cords, such as vocal cord nodules or polyps, and more serious issues like cancer.”
Common causes of hoarseness include:
Vocal Cord Nodules or Polyps These are growths that develop on the vocal cords due to vocal strain or misuse, often seen in individuals who use their voices excessively, like singers or public speakers.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Stomach acid flowing back into the throat can irritate the vocal cords, leading to hoarseness.
Vocal Cord Paralysis Damage to the nerves controlling the vocal cords can result in hoarseness and other voice issues.
Respiratory Infections Viral infections like the common cold can cause swelling and inflammation in the larynx, leading to hoarseness.
Recognizing the Difference
So, what sets laryngitis and hoarseness apart? Dr. Sanderson emphasizes, “While laryngitis is often the cause of hoarseness, the key distinction is that laryngitis refers to the inflammation of the larynx itself, whereas hoarseness is a symptom that can arise from various underlying causes.” In other words, laryngitis is a potential cause of hoarseness, but hoarseness can arise from a range of other factors as well.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Preventing these issues involves maintaining good vocal hygiene. Stay hydrated, avoid smoking and exposure to irritants, and try to limit voice strain. If you’re sick, rest your voice and avoid excessive speaking. If you do experience hoarseness or suspect laryngitis, it’s important to give your voice a break and consider seeking medical attention.
Dr. Sanderson advises that if hoarseness persists for more than two weeks or is accompanied by other symptoms such as pain, difficulty swallowing, coughing up blood, or difficulty breathing, it’s important to seek medical attention. “Early intervention can prevent potential complications and help identify the underlying cause. A medical professional can perform a thorough evaluation, which might include a laryngoscopy or other tests, to diagnose the root issue. For chronic hoarseness or if there are concerns about the underlying cause, it may be necessary to visit an otolaryngologist which is an ear, nose, and throat specialist.”
In the world of vocal health, understanding the difference between laryngitis and hoarseness is crucial. Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box that can lead to hoarseness, while hoarseness is a broad term encompassing changes in vocal quality due to various factors. By recognizing these distinctions, individuals can take better care of their vocal health and seek timely medical attention when needed. As Dr. Sanderson reminds us, “Your voice is an important asset; taking steps to maintain it pays off in the long run.”
CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat Offers Innovative Treatments
At CMC Ear, Nose, and Throat, we specialize in everything dealing with the head and neck. For children and adults dealing with chronic ear infections and sinus issues, seeing one of our ENT surgeons like Dr. Alicia Sanderson can be the first step to getting relief. For conditions ranging from sinus infections and vertigo to hearing loss and sleep apnea, our team can provide a range of innovative non-invasive treatments and surgeries that will vastly improve your life and health. Contact us today at 843-347-7300 to learn more about how we can help your Ear, Nose, and Throat troubles.