Thumbnail image of: Head and Throat: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Respiratory System: Illustration


What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is irritation and swelling of your vocal cords and voice box (larynx). It causes hoarseness, which means your voice sounds unnaturally low, deep, or raspy. Sometimes you can only whisper or hardly speak at all.

Laryngitis may be acute or chronic. Acute laryngitis starts suddenly and lasts no more than a few days. Laryngitis is chronic if symptoms last for at least 3 weeks.

What is the cause?

Acute laryngitis is usually a symptom of a cold, flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, and other infections or allergies. Chronic laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Heavy smoking or drinking
  • Overuse of your voice, such as in teaching or public speaking, singing or shouting
  • Coughing hard
  • Exposure to dust, chemicals, or cigarette smoke

Health problems that can cause changes in your vocal cords include:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Noncancerous growths on the vocal cords
  • Acid reflux from the stomach
  • Cancer of the vocal cords

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Low, raspy voice and hoarseness
  • A dry cough (meaning that you don’t cough up mucus)
  • A throat that feels dry or sore
  • A voice that weakens throughout the day

You may lose your voice completely and only be able to whisper.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. To check for possible causes of your symptoms, you may have tests such as:

  • Laryngoscopy, in which a slim, flexible, lighted tube is passed through your mouth to look at your vocal cords
  • A biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue for testing
  • CT scan, which uses X-rays and a computer to show detailed pictures of the throat
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the throat

How is it treated?

If another health problem is causing the laryngitis, such as thyroid disease, acid reflux, or sinusitis, treatment for that problem will also treat the laryngitis. If no health problem has caused laryngitis, the main treatment is resting your voice as much as you can. Symptoms should improve in a few days or a couple of weeks.

Your healthcare provider may recommend using a steroid spray to help the larynx (voice box) heal faster. Using a steroid for a long time can have serious side effects. Take steroid medicine exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes. Don’t take more or less of it than prescribed by your provider and don’t take it longer than prescribed. Don’t stop taking a steroid without your provider’s approval. You may have to lower your dosage slowly before stopping it.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition

  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking.
  • Avoid breathing dust and chemical fumes.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible.
  • Drink extra fluids, such as water, fruit juice, and tea.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.

Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent laryngitis?

  • Get plenty of rest when you have a viral or bacterial infection, such as a cold or sinusitis.
  • Avoid vocal strain by not yelling, screaming, or talking loudly, especially when you have a cold or other throat or sinus infection.
  • If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke.
  • If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
  • If you have frequent heartburn or reflux disease, see your healthcare provider about preventing or treating these problems.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-11
Last reviewed: 2014-09-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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