Laryngitis is swelling of the larynx. The larynx is the top of the windpipe where the vocal cords sit. Swelling makes it hard for the vocal cords to work. You will sound hoarse or won’t be able to make sound at all.
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The swelling is most often caused by an infection. It is most often caused by a virus.
Less often laryngitis may be caused by certain medical conditions, such as:
- Noncancerous growths on the vocal cords
- Functional dysphonia—hoarseness due to abnormal or overuse of voice
- Laryngeal papilloma—growths on the larynx caused by HPV infection
- Muscle tension dysphonia—a voice disorder caused by excessive or unequal tension while speaking
- Reinkes edema—build-up of fluid in the vocal cords, associated with smoking
- Spasmodic dysphonia—a condition that causes irregular voice breaks
- Vocal cord paralysis—weakness or immobility of the vocal cords
- Autoimmune and granulomatous conditions
- Other types of infection
Factors that may increase your chance of laryngitis include:
- Upper respiratory tract infection—like a cold
- Yelling, singing, and speaking loudly for extended periods of time
- Inhaling airborne irritants—such as cigarette smoke or chemicals
- Allergies to dust, mold, and pollen
- Uncontrolled gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—stomach acid that rises up in the throat
- Using inhaled asthma medications
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Bacterial or fungal infections—much less common
Common symptoms of laryngitis may include:
- Hoarseness (raspiness, breathiness, and strain) or loss of voice
- Changes in volume (loudness) or in pitch (how high or low the voice is)
- Sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Runny nose
- Swollen glands in the neck
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor can most often make a diagnosis based on your symptoms. Further tests may be needed if you have:
- Hoarseness that has no obvious cause or has lasted longer than 2-3 weeks
- Hoarseness with difficulty swallowing or breathing, coughing up blood, a lump in the neck, or throat pain that is more severe than expected with a cold (emergency care may be needed)
- Complete loss of voice or severe change in voice lasting longer than a few days
You may be sent to a specialist if there is no clear cause or cure.
Your voice box may be examined with a scope. Other tests may also be done to test swallowing.
Laryngitis will often go away on its own. Some causes may require medicine or treatment.
Swelling and discomfort of the vocal cords can be managed with home care, such as:
- Resting your voice
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Avoiding smoking or second-hand smoke
- Over the counter pain relievers
- Steam or cold mist inhalation
Other steps will depend on the cause of laryngitis such as:
- Due to strain or overuse—rest your voice
- Waiting for cold or flu to pass—it may take up to 2 weeks for your voice to completely return
- Laryngitis caused by seasonal allergies—improves with allergy treatment
- Acid reflux—may need management with medicine and lifestyle changes
- Bacterial infection—may need antibiotics
Voice therapy may be needed. It can help to treat regular vocal overuse or chronic laryngitis. Voice therapy consists of:
- Voice education
- Healthy use of the voice
- Instruction in proper voice technique and use of the breathing muscles
You may not be able to prevent some of the illnesses and disorders that can cause laryngitis. To prevent and treat mild hoarseness related to laryngitis:
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They can dehydrate you.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Humidify your home.
- Get or maintain GERD treatment.
- Try not to use your voice too loudly or for too long.
- Seek professional voice training.
- Avoid speaking or singing when your voice is injured or hoarse.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Public Health Agency of Canada
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Common problems that can affect your voice. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org/content/common-problems-can-affect-your-voice. Accessed September 26, 2017.
Laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115115/Laryngitis. Updated October 18, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcie L. Sidman, MD Last Updated: 7/17/2020