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BCM - Baylor College of Medicine

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Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery

Irritable Larynx and Chronic Cough

What Is Irritable Larynx?

Irritable larynx is when the larynx (voice box) becomes very sensitive to stimuli. Strong smells, cold air, talking, etc. can all irritate the larynx (voice box) and cause a dry cough or throat clear. These spasms of cough can be very disruptive and distressing to the individual.

What Causes Irritable Larynx?

Some theorize that irritable larynx can be related to a viral illness that may “reset” the sensitivity of the larynx (voice box) to stimuli. Another theory is that gastrointestinal reflux can cause a chronic irritation to the larynx (voice box). Various medications, such as ACE inhibitors (a blood pressure medication), are known to cause a chronic dry cough. Allergies or post-nasal drip can also cause a chronic throat irritation.

How Is Irritable Larynx Diagnosed?

Often a physician can diagnose an irritable larynx by listening to your history. Your otolaryngologist will also examine your larynx (voice box) to ensure that there are no abnormal lesions.

How Is Irritable Larynx Treated?

The treatment depends on the underlying cause. If your otolaryngologist suspects a medication to be the underlying cause he or she may suggest a change in medication. If he or she suspects gastrointestinal reflux or post-nasal drip he or she may prescribe anti-reflux or allergy medications. If he or she suspects a true irritable larynx he or she may refer you to a speech-language pathologist to try laryngeal relaxation or rescue breathing to help you when the coughing episodes occur. He or she may also prescribe neurologic drugs.