Laryngitis

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx, or voice box, due to overuse, infection, or aging. Inside the larynx are two vocal cords, which normally open and close smoothly to form sounds through their movement and vibration. In laryngitis, the vocal cords become inflamed, distorting the sounds they produce. This causes the voice to sound hoarse or raspy. While laryngitis is not usually a serious condition, and typically lasts for only a week or two, it may sometimes have serious causes. If a case of laryngitis presents with a fever, or if it persists for longer than 2 weeks, medical attention should always be sought.

Causes of Laryngitis

Laryngitis may be acute or chronic. In general, chronic laryngitis is of more concern since it is more likely to be the result of an ongoing underlying medical problem.

Causes of Acute Laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is usually caused either by a viral infection, such as a cold, or by vocal strain resulting from overuse, such as an episode of loud speaking or yelling. In rare cases, it may be the result of a bacterial infection and may require treatment with a course of antibiotic medication.

Causes of Chronic Laryngitis

Laryngitis is typically considered chronic if it persists for more than 2 weeks without improvement. Chronic laryngitis may result from continual overuse of the voice or from simple environmental irritants, or it may have more serious causes. Any of the following may cause chronic laryngitis

  • Occupational overuse of the voice
  • Inhaled irritants or allergens
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Acid reflux
  • Chronic sinusitis

Other, less common, causes of chronic laryngitis may include:

  • Fungal infections
  • Vocal cord paralysis, resulting from injury or stroke
  • Bowing of the vocal cords with age (presbylaryngitis)
  • Tumors, nodules or polyps (benign or malignant)
  • Thyroid inflammation

Symptoms of Laryngitis

In most cases, laryngitis symptoms are minor and last only a couple weeks. Temporary symptoms may include:

  • Weak voice or voice loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Dry throat
  • Sore or raw throat
  • Dry cough

More troubling symptoms of laryngitis call for immediate medical attention. The following symptoms may indicate inflammation of the larynx and the airway just beneath it (croup) or inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis), either of which may be life-threatening:

  • Fever higher than 103 F
  • Noisy, high-pitched sounds during inhalation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble swallowing

Treatment of Laryngitis

Most acute cases of laryngitis can be managed at home with simple remedies. Resting the voice is of primary importance since straining the voice during an episode of laryngitis may cause vocal cord damage or precipitate the growth of nodules or polyps. Other home remedies include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoiding alcohol or caffeine
  • Avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Refraining from clearing the throat
  • Sucking lozenges

Treatments for laryngitis include treating underlying conditions, such as sinusitis or acid reflux. If laryngitis is found to be caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, it is treated with antibiotic or antifungal medication. Presbylaryngitis treatments include voice therapy or voice modulation procedures.

Additional Resources