Laryngitis is the inflammation of your larynx, also called your voice box, that can be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections as well as by injury from tobacco smoke or overusing your voice.
Laryngitis isn’t always contagious — it can spread to others only when it’s due to an infection.
The larynx is made up of two folds of muscles and cartilage called the vocal cords, which are covered by a soft, squishy membrane. These two folds are responsible for opening and closing to help produce vocal sounds by stretching and vibrating when you talk, sing, or hum.
When your larynx is inflamed or infected, you’ll probably feel a dry, hoarse, and painful scratchiness in the back of your throat, which may mean you have laryngitis.
Laryngitis can be contagious when it’s caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Some causes, such as long-term cigarette smoking or overuse, don’t typically result in a contagious form of laryngitis.
Let’s get into more detail about when it’s most contagious, how to recognize and treat laryngitis, and when you should go see a doctor if other treatments aren’t working.
Not all forms of laryngitis are contagious.
Laryngitis is most contagious when it’s caused by infection. Here’s a breakdown of what causes these infections, how infectious they are, and how long you’ll be contagious when you have these types of infections.
- Viral laryngitis. This type is caused by a virus, such as the common cold. This is the most common infectious cause of laryngitis, but it’s the least contagious. It usually goes away in a week or two without treatment. With this type, you’re most contagious when you have a fever.
- Bacterial laryngitis. This type is caused by an overgrowth of infectious bacteria, such as
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Bacterial laryngitis is more contagious than viral laryngitis. You’ll need antibiotic therapy as prescribed by your doctor to treat this type of laryngitis.
- Fungal laryngitis. This type is caused by an overgrowth of a
fungus in the larynx, such as Candida fungus that causes yeast infections. Fungal laryngitis is also more contagious than viral laryngitis.
Some common symptoms of laryngitis include:
- trouble speaking or inability to speak
- scratchy or raw throat, especially when you try to speak or swallow
- sore, tight throat
- dry throat, especially when you’re in dry climates or have a fan on
- persistent dry cough without another obvious cause
Some symptoms you may notice if your laryngitis is caused by an infection include:
- bad or unusual smelling breath
- sharp pain when you talk or swallow
- pus or mucus discharge when you cough or blow your nose
Most cases of laryngitis clear within a week or two, so you don’t always need to see the doctor to get treatment.
If your laryngitis is from overuse, the best treatment is to rest your voice. Try to limit using your voice for a few days until your throat feels normal.
If your laryngitis is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, you’ll probably need a course of oral antibiotic or antifungal therapy to reduce and destroy the bacteria or fungus growth. You may have to take a course of antifungal therapy for 3 weeks.
You may also want to take a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, to reduce discomfort while your throat heals.
Here are some tips for speeding up your recovery from laryngitis:
- Use honey or lozenges to soothe your throat. Putting honey in hot tea or using cough drops can help lubricate your throat and keep it from feeling irritated.
- Limit or avoid smoking. Smoking deprives your throat of moisture and can damage your vocal cords, which consistently increases your risk of laryngitis.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water every day. Water helps keep you hydrated, which can lubricate the vocal cords and make sure the mucus in your throat stays thin and watery, which eases the movement of your vocal cords and make the mucus easier to drain.
- Cut back on coffee and alcohol. Drinking too much of either of these substances can reduce the amount of water in your body and dehydrate you. Your body uses stores of water to moisten your throat and vocal cords, so the more hydrated you are, the better.
- Limit how often you clear your throat. Clearing your throat creates a sudden, violent vibration of your vocal cords that can damage them or make swelling more uncomfortable. It also becomes a vicious cycle: When you clear your throat, the tissue becomes raw from the injury and your throat reacts by producing more mucus, so you’ll probably want to clear your throat again soon after.
- Try to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Wash your hands as frequently as you can, and don’t share items or make physical contact with people who have colds or the flu.
Short-term, or acute, forms of laryngitis caused by minor injury or by mild infections don’t last long. The average case of acute laryngitis lasts less than 3 weeks.
Long-term forms of laryngitis can be harder to treat. Chronic laryngitis, which is laryngitis for over 3 weeks in duration, usually happens when your larynx has been permanently damaged or is constantly affected by:
- exposure to cigarette smoke
- inhaling harsh chemicals or fumes in an industrial workplace
- having long-term sinus inflammation, which may or may not be from an infection, that can affect the throat through post-nasal drip
- drinking too much alcohol
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- consistent speaking, singing, or shouting
Chronic laryngitis can sometimes persist for months or more if you don’t treat the underlying cause.
This type isn’t usually contagious, but untreated chronic laryngitis can result in the growth of nodules or polyps on your vocal cords. These can make it harder to speak or sing and can sometimes become cancerous.
Seek immediate medical help if you notice any of the following, especially if your young child has laryngitis:
- You make high-pitched sounds when you breathe in and out, known as stridor.
- You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
- Your fever is above 103°F (39.4 C).
- You are coughing up blood.
- You have severe and increasing throat pain.
Laryngitis doesn’t usually last long and can typically be treated by resting your voice. In some cases, you’ll need antibiotics to help fight off infections.
See your doctor if your laryngitis lasts for more than 3 weeks and if you notice any other symptoms like persistent fever or unusual discharge.
If you notice any new lumps around your throat, even after the symptoms of laryngitis have gone away, you may want to make a doctor’s appointment. If your laryngitis is caused by an underlying issue, you’ll need to treat the cause before the condition will fully go away.