Learn about the symptoms, causes and treatment for this common irritation of the voice box.
Laryngitis is an inflammation of your voice box (larynx) from overuse, irritation or infection.
Inside the larynx are your vocal cords — two folds of mucous membrane covering muscle and cartilage. Normally, your vocal cords open and close smoothly, forming sounds through their movement and vibration.
But with laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. This makes the vocal cords swell, which distorts the sounds produced by air passing over them. As a result, your voice sounds hoarse. In some cases of laryngitis, your voice can become almost undetectable.
Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic). Most cases of laryngitis are triggered by a temporary viral infection and aren't serious. Persistent hoarseness can sometimes signal a more serious underlying medical condition.
Speech occurs when air flows from the lungs, up the windpipe (trachea) and through the voice box (larynx). This causes the vocal cords to vibrate, creating sound. Sound is shaped into words by the muscles controlling the soft palate, tongue and lips.
In most cases laryngitis symptoms last less than a couple of weeks and are caused by something minor, such as a virus. Less often, laryngitis symptoms are caused by something more serious or long lasting. Laryngitis signs and symptoms can include:
You can manage most acute cases of laryngitis with self-care steps, such as resting your voice and drinking plenty of fluids. Strenuous use of your voice during an episode of acute laryngitis can damage your vocal cords.
Make an appointment with a doctor if your laryngitis symptoms last more than two weeks.
These signs and symptoms may indicate croup — inflammation of the larynx and the airway just beneath it. Although croup can usually be treated at home, severe symptoms require medical attention. These symptoms can also indicate epiglottitis, an inflammation of the tissue that acts as a lid (epiglottis) to cover the windpipe (trachea), which can be life-threatening for children and adults.
Most cases of laryngitis are temporary and improve after the underlying cause gets better. Causes of acute laryngitis include:
Laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks is known as chronic laryngitis. This type of laryngitis is generally caused by exposure to irritants over time. Chronic laryngitis can cause vocal cord strain and injuries or growths on the vocal cords (polyps or nodules). Chronic laryngitis can be caused by:
Less common causes of chronic laryngitis include:
Other causes of chronic hoarseness include:
Risk factors for laryngitis include:
In some cases of laryngitis caused by infection, the infection may spread to other parts of the respiratory tract.
To prevent dryness or irritation to your vocal cords:
The most common sign of laryngitis is hoarseness. Changes in your voice can vary with the degree of infection or irritation, ranging from mild hoarseness to almost total loss of your voice. If you have chronic hoarseness, your doctor may review your medical history and symptoms. He or she may want to listen to your voice and examine your vocal cords, and he or she may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
These techniques sometimes are used to help diagnose laryngitis:
Acute laryngitis often gets better on its own within a week or so. Self-care measures, such as voice rest, drinking fluids and humidifying your air, also can help improve symptoms.
Chronic laryngitis treatments are aimed at treating the underlying causes, such as heartburn, smoking or excessive use of alcohol.
Medications used in some cases include:
You may also have voice therapy to learn to lessen behaviors that worsen your voice.
In some cases, you may need surgery.
Some self-care methods and home treatments may relieve the symptoms of laryngitis and reduce strain on your voice:
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a pediatrician. You may be referred to a doctor trained in ear, nose and throat disorders.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor.
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For laryngitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as: