Laryngitis is inflammation and swelling of the larynx. The larynx is the top of the windpipe. It is where the vocal cords sit. Swelling makes it hard for the vocal cords to work. This leads to sounding hoarse or not being able to make sound.
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Laryngitis is most often caused by a viral infection.
Less often, it may be caused by:
- Growths on the larynx or vocal cords
- Overuse of the voice
- Reinke edema—buildup of fluid in the vocal cords
- Spasmodic dysphonia—a condition that causes irregular voice breaks
- Vocal cord paralysis
- Immune system problems
- Other types of infection
Things that raise the risk of laryngitis are:
- Upper respiratory tract infections—like a cold
- Yelling, singing, and speaking loudly—for long periods of time
- Inhaling cigarette smoke or other irritating substances
- Having health problems such as:
- Using inhaled asthma medicines
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Bacterial or fungal infections—much less common
Symptoms of laryngitis may be:
- Hoarseness or loss of voice
- Changes in how loud, high, or low the voice sounds
- Sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Runny nose
- Swollen glands in the neck
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. This may be enough to make the diagnosis.
Further tests may be needed if symptoms are lasting, severe, or unusual.
Laryngitis will often go away on its own. Some causes may require medicine or treatment.
Treatment depends on the cause. Options are:
- Treating symptoms with home care such as rest, fluids, and pain medicine.
- Treating causes, such as:
- Voice strain or overuse—may improve with voice rest or (if long-term) voice therapy
- Seasonal allergies—may improve with allergy shots or medicine
- Acid reflux—may be controlled with lifestyle changes or medicine
- Bacterial infection—may need antibiotics
Laryngitis cannot always be prevented. It depends on the cause. Mild hoarseness may be prevented by:
- Not smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Treating GERD
- Not overusing the voice
- Hoarseness. National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hoarseness.
- Laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/laryngitis.
- Stachler RJ, Dworkin-Valenti JP. Allergic laryngitis: unraveling the myths. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017;25(3):242-246.
- Throat conditions. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/common-problems-can-affect-your-voice.
- Mark Arredondo, MD
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