Laryngitis occurs when your larynx, or voice box, and vocal cords become swollen and irritated. This fairly common condition often causes hoarseness or loss of voice, which is generally temporary. A range of issues can cause laryngitis, including:
- long-term smoking
- acid reflux
- overusing your voice
- viral infections such as cold and flu viruses
Your risk increases if you have allergies or pneumonia or if you regularly come into contact with irritating chemicals.
Treatment usually involves adequate rest and hydration, but some cases may require medication. You may need surgery if you have a very serious case.
Recovery usually depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Most cases are short-term and can be treated at home. Symptoms that last longer than 10 days may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. You should call your doctor if you have laryngitis symptoms for longer than 10 days.
Laryngitis may be acute or chronic. Chronic laryngitis can develop over long periods of time and last for weeks or months. Acute laryngitis usually comes on suddenly and clears up within a few days to a week.
A variety of factors can cause chronic laryngitis. Long-term cigarette smoking can irritate your vocal cords and cause your throat to swell. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) causes the contents of your stomach to move up into your esophagus. This can irritate your throat.
Other conditions that may lead to chronic laryngitis include:
- vocal cord polyps or cysts
- excessive exposure to toxic chemicals
- complications from the flu or a chronic cold
People at risk for chronic laryngitis are tobacco smokers and people who are regularly exposed to irritating inhalants or toxic chemicals. You also have a greater risk if you have chronic upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold, or suffer from allergies.
You can develop ulcers or growths on your vocal cords over time if you talk or sing excessively. Vocal cords lose their ability to vibrate as you age. This makes you more susceptible to chronic laryngitis.
Common symptoms of chronic laryngitis include:
- loss of voice
- a raw or irritated throat
- a dry cough
- swelling of the glands in your neck, or lymph nodes
- difficulty swallowing
Acute laryngitis will typically clear up within two weeks. Your doctor should evaluate symptoms that last longer than two weeks as soon as possible.
See your doctor if your throat has been hoarse for longer than 10 days. It’s important to take your child to their doctor if their symptoms last for a week. If your child is less than 3 months old and has trouble breathing or swallowing, go to a doctor right away.
Call your child’s doctor if your child has vocal cord swelling accompanied by any of the following:
- a barking cough
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
These may be signs of croup, or swelling of the area around the vocal cords. This is common in infants and children.
Your doctor will examine your throat to determine the cause of the laryngitis. Treatment will be based on the cause of your condition.
These symptoms can be caused by an infection in your respiratory tract. You may need to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist if you’re a smoker and you’ve had laryngitis symptoms for over a month.
People who speak or sing for a living will need to rest their voices until the inflammation subsides. You should limit how much you use your voice after you recover to prevent the condition from developing again.
Getting extra rest will help your body recover even if singing or speaking isn’t part of your profession.
Your doctor may also recommend that you use a humidifier in your home to add moisture to your environment and help soothe your scratchy throat. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine and alcohol because these substances can increase inflammation. You can also keep your throat moist by sucking on lozenges. Be careful to avoid substances that will irritate your throat, such as cough drops that contain menthol.
Viruses cause the majority of cases of infectious laryngitis. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics in the rare case that your condition is caused by a bacterial infection.
Treatment for chronic laryngitis is aimed at the underlying cause and will vary. You doctor may prescribe decongestants, pain relievers, or steroid injections.
Cases caused by vocal cord polyps and loose or paralyzed vocal cords are considered to be very serious. You doctor may recommend surgery if either of these have caused your chronic laryngitis.
Vocal cord polyp removal is typically an outpatient procedure. You doctor may recommend collagen injections or surgery for loose or paralyzed vocal cords.
General healthy practices will help you to avoid chronic laryngitis. Washing your hands and avoiding contact with others who have the flu or cold will limit the risk of catching a virus.
People who use their voices excessively for a living should take frequent breaks. Talk to your doctor about other ways you can reduce the possibility of inflammation.
You should avoid working in locations that constantly expose you to harsh chemicals. People who smoke should quit immediately to lower their risk of inflammation.