How can you recognize and treat laryngitis?

Article

08. 02. 2018

Laryngitis is one of the many illnesses that parents fear because the progress can appear to be very frightening. Fortunately however, the disease itself is not actually dangerous for the child. Despite this fact, it is good to prevent it or to do our best to ease its symptoms.

A cough resembling barking as a typical symptom of laryngitis can be heard from a cot regardless of whether it is summer or winter. However, it does tend to be more prevalent in colder parts of the year – likely due to the fact that children are exposed to more infectious diseases and their immunity is generally weaker.

It is a common disease in children, caused by viruses. It is most prevalent in toddlers and preschoolers and much less frequent with older children. As the child grows, the anatomy and ratio of the larynx and trachea change and widen. Therefore, even with laryngitis in effect, the danger of the child having difficulty breathing decreases. In other words, the disease can be caught by older children or adults but it may only be in the form of a mild infection of the upper respiratory tract, often accompanied by voice hoarseness.

It is very hard however, to say who is under the greatest threat from laryngitis – some children avoid it altogether, others have it once or twice within a couple of years, while there are those that suffer from it once a month. The only certainty is that children with allergies are at a greater risk because their mucous membranes exhibit a higher tendency in reacting by swelling to various external and infectious stimuli.

Generally, home treatment is sufficient

In most cases, a bout of laryngitis can be dealt with at home. However, the onset of the disease can look very dramatic and usually starts at night, despite the child being well only a couple hours earlier. However, laryngitis can sometimes be predicted when the child's voice turns hoarse. Sometimes, laryngitis combines itself with an existing cold or a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract.

The symptoms are very typical – in specific a cough resembling barking accompanied by wheezing, usually without any fever. However, the progression of the disease can differ from child to child. Usually, the cough can be easily stopped by giving your child something to drink, by letting colder air into the room or by taking the child outside. Often this calms the cough well enough and the child can fall asleep again. If it is warm outside, it is possible to for example open the freezer and have the child breathe in the air. Further, it is possible to use a humidifier, even for preventive purposes, especially when the child suffers from frequent spells of laryngitis or is allergic. Regardless, it is definitely advisable to maintain a cooler temperature in the bedroom, ideally no higher than 18 degrees Celsius. In the summer, it may however be difficult to maintain this temperature.

In most cases of laryngitis – despite the voice coarseness and a cough resembling barking – the child is not under danger. It is always good to keep the child calm because terrified cries can unnecessarily further complicate the situation.

What if the child's situation worsens?

In connection with laryngitis, doctors often refer to an inhalation hiss which is most apparent during while the child is breathing in.

If, despite the parent's best efforts, the health state deteriorates, doctors advise applying a corticoid suppository or tablet aiimed at reducing the swelling of mucous membranes. A general practitioner can prepare a prescription that the parents can use to pick up the medication. However, corticoids must be applied carefully and only when they are necessary, i.e. not when the first coughing symptoms appear. In rare cases, inhalation of corticoids or adrenalin is needed. If this fails as well, then it may be necessary to contact your emergency line or call for an ambulance. It is not advised to use caugh medicine to suppress the cough. In a full-blown case of laryngitis, these will have virtually no effect. In the following days and particularly at nights, the child can  take antihistamines (in the form of drops for the smallest children) which limit swelling of the mucous membranes and prevent repeating bouts of laryngitis.

Not too long ago, medical students had to memorize the symptoms of laryngitis in order not not confuse it with a far more dangerous illness characterized by an inflammation of the glottis, otherwise known as epiglottitis. Nowadays, epiglottitis is virtually non-existent due to mandatory immunization of infants. The characteristic cough as well as the wheezing accompanying laryngitis sounds horrible, yet these symptoms rarely endanger the patient. On the other hand, inflammation of the glottis can be fatal. A typical symptom of epiglottitis is a high fever, a stiff neck and saliva coming from the mouth. Sometimes, even a quick medical response may fail to save the patient.

What causes laryngitis and how can it be treated?
 

  • It is a common childhood viral illness often caused by the inluenzae or parainfluenzae viruses.
  • The virus triggers an inflammation of the lining of the larynx. This causes swelling which in turn leads to coughing and a heavier breathing.
  • To calm the barking cough, cold (freezing) and humid air, compresses on the neck as well as liquids are usually recommended.
  • It is equally important to note that with an acute case of laryngitis, there is no point in using cough drops to ease the cough. If anything, they will be very slow to help and can actually act as a source of irritation.
  • If the condition worsens, corticoids in the form of a suppository or tablets can be administered or you can seek out medical assistance.
     

Barbara Taušová – pediatrician, founder, executive head and director of private family medical center Canadian Medical in Pragueowner of a private pediatric office in Prague.

 

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