Key Points about Laryngitis

  • Laryngitis is marked by inflammation of the larynx, or voice box, which can be either acute or chronic, and can have a variety of causes.
  • Common causes of acute laryngitis include viral infection or vocal-chord strain.
  • Common causes of chronic laryngitis include repeated exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, or other environmental irritants.
  • Most cases of laryngitis do not require medical treatment and resolve on their own within two weeks.
  • People with symptoms of laryngitis that last longer than three weeks should see their doctor, as they may have chronic laryngitis, which will not go away until the underlying cause has been identified and treated.
  • You should also call your doctor if you are having trouble breathing or swallowing, or if you have a fever that lasts longer than two days.

Overview

Laryngitis occurs when the vocal cords or voice box become inflamed. This inflammation can result from irritation, an infection, or overuse of the voice box.

Laryngitis can be acute or chronic and can have a variety of causes. Acute laryngitis can be result from an infection, or a strain in the vocal cords. Chronic laryngitis can result from long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, or other environmental irritants.

Most cases of laryngitis improve on their own within two weeks and can be treated at home by staying hydrated and avoiding using your voice. Treatment for chronic laryngitis requires identifying and addressing the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Call your doctor if you are having trouble breathing or swallowing, if you have a fever that lasts past two days, or if your symptoms have not improved after two weeks. 

Laryngitis causes

Laryngitis is marked by inflammation of the larynx, or voice box. This inflammation can have a variety of causes.

Laryngitis can be acute or chronic. Acute laryngitis is often caused by:

  • A viral infection
  • Strain of the vocal cords

Chronic laryngitis often results from long-term exposure to substances that irritate the larynx. This form of laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Frequently drinking large amounts of alcohol
  • Chronic sinus infections
  • Acid reflux
  • Inhaling smoke, allergens, or other irritating chemicals in the environment
  • Overuse or strain your voice, such as through frequent yelling or singing

In rare cases, chronic laryngitis can also be caused by a fungal, bacterial or parasitic infection.

Laryngitis risk factors

You may be more likely to develop laryngitis if you:

  • Have a respiratory infection
  • Overuse or strain your voice, such as through frequent yelling or singing
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Drink large amounts of alcohol
  • Are exposed to irritating chemicals at work or at home

Laryngitis symptoms

Symptoms of acute laryngitis often resolve within a few weeks, while symptoms of chronic laryngitis persist past three weeks. Common symptoms of laryngitis include:

  • Throat soreness, dryness, rawness or hoarseness
  • A weakened voice
  • “Losing” your voice
  • A dry, potentially painful cough

Laryngitis prevention

Laryngitis can be avoided by preventing your vocal cords from becoming dry and irritated. Measures to prevent dryness include:

  • Drinking lots of water
  • Staying away from tobacco smoke
  • Maintain good hand hygiene to avoid catching upper respiratory infections
  • Refrain from clearing your throat
  • Refrain from drinking alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid spicy foods if you experience acid reflux
  • Maintain a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

Laryngitis diagnosis

When diagnosing laryngitis, your doctor will review your symptoms—taking note of any voice hoarseness—and may use the following diagnostic techniques:

  • A laryngoscopy, to view the back of your throat with a small light and mirror, or with a camera
  • A biopsy, to examine a sample of the affected tissue with a microscope

Laryngitis treatment

Most cases of acute laryngitis can be treated at home by:

  • Avoiding using your voice, including whispering
  • Drinking lots of water and other hydrating fluids
  • Using a humidifier in your bedroom

Treating chronic laryngitis involves determining the underlying cause of your symptoms and coming up with a plan to treat or manage that condition. If your laryngitis is the result of chronic tobacco use, for example, your doctor can refer you to resources to help quit smoking.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or corticosteroids to treat laryngitis.

When to seek care

Call your if you:

  • Are having trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Have a persistent fever
  • Are coughing up blood
  • Are experiencing worsening pain
  • Have symptoms that persist past two weeks

Call your child’s doctor if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Has a fever over 103 F
  • Makes loud, high-pitched noises when breathing

Next Steps

If your laryngitis is chronic, your doctor can provide treatment for its underlying cause, as well as refer you to several additional specialists.