What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal cords in your larynx. Acute laryngitis is temporary swelling and irritation, while chronic laryngitis is persistent and often recurring, which can lead to vocal damage.

Laryngitis affects more than 3 million people in the United States each year.

Common Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection) Tonsillitis

Causes of laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is typically caused by a viral infection, often accompanying a cold.

Other causes of laryngitis include:

  • Overuse of your vocal cords
  • Exposure to irritants such as smoke or allergens
  • Use of inhaled steroids
  • Acid reflux — the most common cause of chronic laryngitis

Risk factors for laryngitis

Risk factors for laryngitis include:

  • Upper respiratory infection — if you have a cold, it’s possible for the infection to extend to your larynx.
  • Occupation — singers and those who work in an environment where shouting is required (construction sites, factories, etc.) are at higher risk for developing laryngitis due to the frequency and magnitude with which they activate their vocal cords.
  • Exposure to allergens — if you have severe allergic rhinitis and are exposed to allergens, you are at higher risk of developing laryngitis.

Symptoms of laryngitis

Symptoms of laryngitis are:

  • Sore or dry throat
  • Hoarseness/loss of voice
  • Cough
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Raspy or voice that breaks

Diagnosis of laryngitis

Acute laryngitis can be diagnosed in a physical exam with your primary care provider, who will listen to your voice and examine the back of your throat. In some cases, an endoscopic camera may be used to get a better look at your vocal cords in a procedure known as laryngoscopy.

In severe cases of laryngitis, your primary care provider may refer you to an ENT specialist (otolaryngologist).

Treatments for laryngitis

Most cases of acute laryngitis can be treated with home therapy including:

  • Pain reliever/anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen
  • Warm, hydrating fluids
  • Vocal rest — use your voice as little as possible
  • Throat lozenges
  • Air humidifier — helps prevent you from breathing in dry air

Chronic laryngitis requires more advanced treatment. You will be referred to an otolaryngologist for care.

Recovery from laryngitis

With vocal rest, laryngitis will typically improve in 3-10 days. Hoarseness and throat pain lasting longer than two weeks could be chronic laryngitis, which might require treatment from an ENT specialist.

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