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by Scholten A

Definition

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.

The Larynx
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Causes

Laryngitis is most often caused by a viral infection.

Less often, it may be caused by:

  • Allergies
  • Growths on the larynx or vocal cords
  • Overuse of the voice
  • Reinkes edema—build-up 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

Risk Factors

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

Symptoms of laryngitis may be:

  • Hoarseness or loss of voice
  • Changes in how loud, high, or low the voice sounds
  • Sore throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands in the neck

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. 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.

Treatment

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

Prevention

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

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://familydoctor.org 

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  https://www.niaid.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Public Health Agency of Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  http://www.cfpc.ca 

References

Hoarseness. National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hoarseness. Accessed February 23, 2021.

Laryngitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/laryngitis. Accessed January 29, 2021.

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. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Shawna Grubb, RN
  • Review Date: 09/2020
  • Update Date: 02/23/2021