Laryngitis occurs when your larynx (also known as your voice box) and its vocal cords become inflamed, 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 tobacco smoking
- stomach 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 therapy. If you have a very serious case, you may need surgery.
Recovery usually depends on the cause and severity of your condition. Most cases are short-term (lasting less than 14 days) and can be treated at home.
Symptoms that last longer than 14 days may be a sign of a more serious medical condition. You should call your doctor if you have laryngitis symptoms for longer than 14 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 in less than 14 days.
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 over time. Excessive exposure to toxic chemicals can also lead to chronic laryngitis.
Other conditions that may be associated with, or lead to chronic laryngitis include:
People at a higher 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:
- overuse your voice on a regular basis
- have chronic sinus inflammation (sinusitis)
- drink too much alcohol
- have allergies
You can also develop ulcers or growths, such as polyps or cysts, on your vocal cords over time if you talk or sing excessively. Vocal cords can 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 lymph nodes in your neck
- 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.
Your doctor can diagnose chronic laryngitis. You’ll want to see your doctor if your throat has started to become hoarse or you’ve had any other laryngitis symptoms lasting for longer than 14 days.
It’s better to try to address and treat the cause of laryngitis sooner than later. Laryngitis that lasts for longer than three weeks is considered to be chronic laryngitis.
Your doctor may want to perform a laryngoscopy to look at your larynx. If anything looks out of the ordinary, your doctor may also order a biopsy of the affected area.
It’s important to take your child to their doctor if their symptoms last for more than two weeks. If your child has trouble breathing or swallowing, take them to a doctor right away.
Call your child’s doctor if your child has symptoms of vocal cord swelling accompanied by any of the following:
- a barking cough
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
These may be signs of croup, which causes swelling of the area around the vocal cords. This is more common in infants and younger children.
Your doctor will examine your throat to determine the cause of the laryngitis. Treatment will be based on the cause of your condition.
Laryngitis 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 more than 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 flaring up 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 lead to increased laryngeal 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, which is usually acute laryngitis that clears up over time. 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. Your doctor may prescribe an antihistamine, pain relievers, or a glucocorticosteroid. If you have stomach acid refluxing and going into your voice box, your doctor may prescribe therapy to address this.
Cases where one’s chronic laryngitis has led to vocal cord polyps or vocal cords that are loose or paralyzed are considered to be more serious. Your doctor may recommend surgery if either of these conditions have caused significant vocal cord dysfunction.
Vocal cord polyp removal is typically an outpatient procedure. Your 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.
Properly treating stomach acid reflux can also lower one’s risk for chronic laryngitis. Avoiding excessive alcohol intake is also recommended.