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Celine Dion: Viral Laryngitis and the Effects on the Voice

About Dr. Reena Gupta

Dr. Reena Gupta is the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at OHNI. Dr. Gupta has devoted her practice to the care of patients with voice problems. She is board certified in otolaryngology and laryngology and fellowship trained in laryngology, specializing in the care of the professional voice.

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Celine Dion has cancelled several shows due to laryngitis.  Dion is one of the few contemporary artists who still relies on her live voice for her career.  She sacrifices much to protect her voice, and is known to go on periods of voice rest before and after a performance.

So how does someone who goes to such lengths to protect her voice suffer a setback like this? As you probably realize, anyone can get laryngitis.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis simply means inflammation of the larynx. Laryngitis is caused by viruses (more commonly), bacteria, fungi, or any number of irritants.  For example, smoking causes a type of laryngitis because it causes the entire larynx to become swollen and inflamed.

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How does laryngitis affect the voice?

Inflammation of the vocal cords results in voice difficulties.  When vocal cords are swollen, they are not able to vibrate normally, which affects the sound they produce.  The voice often sounds hoarse or raspy, and often a singer will notice their range has decreased.  Higher notes in particular are affected because the higher notes require very fast and fine vibrations of the vocal cords.  This is not possible if the vocal cords are swollen.  The vocal cords become heavier and more difficult to manipulate, requiring more force to sing.  This added force makes injury even more likely, as increased pressure on swollen vocal cords is more likely to lead to worsened swelling or a vocal hemorrhage.

What is the treatment for laryngitis?

The most common and effective treatment is resting the voice.  Viruses are the most common cause of laryngitis (unless the patient is known to have other risk factors, such as smoking).  No antibiotics are needed, although occasionally steroids may be given to reduce the inflammation.  Other things that help include:

  • Adequate hydration
  • Humidification of the environment
  • Avoiding triggers (such as cigarette smoke, allergens, dust, etc)

Patients often feel better if they use numbing or soothing lozenges as well.  While these do not make the laryngitis get better faster, they do provide symptom relief.

Is laryngitis dangerous?

Laryngitis can be dangerous, or even life-threatening, if severe.  The larynx is the gateway to the airway and inflammation here can result in airway obstruction.  Warning signs to look out for include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • noisy breathing
  • light-headedness
  • increased effort of breathing

If any of these symptoms occur, urgent medical treatment should be sought.  However, life-threatening laryngitis is extremely rare.  More commonly, the inflammation is mild and does not threaten the breathing passageway.   It is important to realize that speaking or singing while suffering from laryngitis can result in significant vocal injury, including:

The only way to know if you are at risk of these is to see a laryngologist for a stroboscopy.

You should see a voice doctor within 1 week of getting hoarse (sooner if you are a singer).  Singing and speaking while you have laryngitis can damage the vocal cords irreversibly.

To learn more about Dr. Reena Gupta or viral laryngitis, visit: http://www.voicedoctorla.com/

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