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Laryngitis in Childhood


Laryngitis is an infection or irritation of the larynx (voice box). Most often, laryngitis happens when a virus infects the area around the vocal cords. In most adults and older children, the result is just a hoarse voice and a sore throat. In infants and younger children, however, laryngitis sometimes further narrows an already small airway and leads to breathing problems. In babies, croup can also occur, most likely when a virus that causes laryngitis spreads to the trachea (windpipe) and larger breathing passages.
Most cases are caused by parainfluenza viruses types 1 and 2, and influenza A viruses are responsible for 75% of cases. Epiglottitis is a severe case of supraglottic laryngitis caused by Haemophilus influenzae, Type B.
In very rare cases, laryngitis is caused by diphtheria , a bacterial infection ( Corynebacterium diphtheriae ) of the larynx.

Sometimes laryngitis comes from a simple irritation of the voice box or vocal cords. For example, when a child talks, shouts or even sings too loudly or for too long. Older children who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes can also develop laryngitis. The aspiration of a foreign body can also result in the sudden onset of respiratory obstructions. Abrasions in the back of the throat can also mimic respiratory obstructions.

Symptoms and Signs

In laryngitis, the voice is usually either hoarse or whispered, and the throat be sore. Often, except for throat problems, an older child with laryngitis may not have any other symptoms. In infants and younger children, however, laryngitis can (rarely) cause serious breathing problems. Signs of narrowed airways in younger children include a grunting or wheezing sound each time the child breathes; chest muscles that retract (suck inward) as the child struggles to inhale; either unusual restlessness or unusual sleepiness; pale skin; or a blue or grey colour in the lips or fingernails.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A child who has symptoms of laryngitis without a fever, chills, or other signs of serious infection or breathing difficulty, can usually treat him at home. A non-aspirin (due to the risk of Reye's Syndrome ) can help ease throat discomfort. The voice should also be rested and the child given plenty of liquids. If a child has symptoms of laryngitis and has difficulty breathing; fever; chills; nausea or vomiting; trouble swallowing foods, liquids, or their own saliva; or a hoarse voice that lasts more than one week, a doctor should be contacted.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1., Children's Health Section:

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Parainfluenza virus
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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002