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. Laryngitis may be due to other causes.
What causes it?
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.
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor will check your symptoms and listen to your voice. Your doctor may also do an exam. During the exam, the doctor may feel your neck for lumps and check your nose, mouth, ears, 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 laryngitis 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.
- 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.
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