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What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx (say "LAIR-inks"), that causes your voice to become raspy or hoarse.
Laryngitis can be short-term or long-lasting (chronic). Most of the time, it comes on quickly and lasts no more than 2 weeks.
Chronic symptoms are those that last 2 weeks or longer. Check with your doctor if your symptoms last longer than 2 weeks. Your laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems.
What causes laryngitis?
Laryngitis can be caused by:
- Colds or the flu. This is the most common cause.
- Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Overuse of your voice, such as cheering at a sports event.
- Irritation, such as from allergies or smoke.
- Use of inhaled steroid medicines (such as those used to treat asthma).
- Problems with the way you talk or sing.
Acid reflux is the most common cause of chronic laryngitis. But chronic laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems such as nerve damage, sores, polyps, cancer, or hard and thick lumps (nodules) on your vocal cords. The vocal cords are the vibrating elastic bands inside the larynx that produce your voice.
Some hoarseness may occur naturally with age as your vocal cords loosen and grow thinner.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness. Your voice may sound raspy, be deeper than normal, or break now and then. You may lose your voice completely. Other symptoms may include a dry or sore throat, coughing, and trouble swallowing.
More severe symptoms may mean there is another problem.
How is laryngitis diagnosed?
A doctor can identify laryngitis by doing a physical exam that will probably include feeling your neck for sensitive areas or lumps and checking your nose, mouth, and throat.
If you have voice problems and hoarseness that don't have an obvious cause and that last longer than 2 weeks, your doctor may refer you to a specialist (otolaryngologist). The way your vocal cords look and the sound of your voice will help the specialist find out if your laryngitis will go away on its own or if you need treatment.
How is it treated?
With most cases of laryngitis, home treatment is all that you need.
- Rest your voice as much as you can. When you have to talk, speak softly but don't whisper. (Whispering irritates your larynx more than speaking softly.) Don't talk on the telephone or speak loudly unless you have to.
- Try not to clear your throat. If you have a dry cough, a nonprescription cough suppressant may help.
- Add moisture to the air in your home with a humidifier or vaporizer.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Don't smoke. And stay away from other people's smoke.
If acid reflux (GERD) is causing your laryngitis, you may need to take steps to reduce the reflux.
Chronic laryngitis may need more treatment. For example, if you keep getting laryngitis because of a problem with the way you talk or sing, you may need speech training. This can help you change habits that can cause laryngitis. It can also help your larynx heal.
You may need surgery if your vocal cords have been damaged, such as by sores or polyps.
Other Works Consulted
- Akst L (2011). Hoarseness and laryngitis. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2012, pp. 223–228. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Cherry JD (2009). Croup (laryngitis, laryngotracheitis, spasmodic croup, laryngotracheobronchitis, bacterial tracheitis, and laryngotracheobronchopneumonitis). In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 254–268. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Rubin MA, et al. (2015). Sore throat, earache, and upper respiratory symptoms. In DL Kasper et al., eds., Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th ed., vol. 1, pp. 225–235. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Schwartz SR, et al. (2009). Clinical practice guideline: Hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 141: S1–S31.
Current as of: December 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Donald R. Mintz MD - Otolaryngology
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