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Laryngitis

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Topic Overview

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx, that causes your voice to become raspy or hoarse.

See a picture of the larynx (say "LAIR-inks").

Laryngitis can be short-term or long-lasting (chronic). Most of the time, it comes on quickly and lasts no more than 2 weeks.

Chronic symptoms are those that last 2 weeks or longer. Check with your doctor if your symptoms last more than 2 weeks, because your laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems.

What causes laryngitis?

Laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Colds or flu. This is the most common cause.
  • Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This type of laryngitis is also called reflux laryngitis.
  • Overuse of your voice, such as cheering at a sports event.
  • Irritation, such as from allergies or smoke.

Acid reflux is the most common cause of chronic laryngitis. But chronic laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems such as nerve damage, sores, polyps, or hard and thick lumps (nodules) on your vocal cords. The vocal cords are the vibrating elastic bands inside the larynx that produce your voice.

Some hoarseness may occur naturally with age as your vocal cords loosen and grow thinner.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness. Your voice may sound raspy, be deeper than normal, or break now and then. You may lose your voice completely. Other symptoms may include a dry or sore throat, coughing, and trouble swallowing.

More severe symptoms may mean there is another problem. A child who has severe pain, drooling, and a hard time breathing may have epiglottitis, a serious condition that requires emergency care. Adults also get epiglottitis, but it is more common in children.

How is laryngitis diagnosed?

Your doctor can identify laryngitis by doing a physical exam that will probably include feeling your neck for sensitive areas or lumps and looking at your nose, mouth, and throat for inflammation. Your doctor may also ask questions such as: When did your voice problem begin? Does it seem to be related to an illness? The way your vocal cords look and the sound of your voice will help your doctor find out if your laryngitis will go away on its own or if you need treatment.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist (otolaryngologist) if you have voice problems and hoarseness that do not have an obvious cause and that last longer than 2 weeks. A specialist may examine your vocal cords with a small mirror or a special scope.

How is it treated?

With most cases of laryngitis, home treatment is all that you need. Try to rest your voice, add moisture to the air in your home with a humidifier or vaporizer, and drink plenty of fluids. Don't smoke, and stay away from other people’s smoke.

Chronic laryngitis may need more treatment. If you keep getting laryngitis because of a problem with the way you talk or sing, you may need speech training. This can help you change habits that can cause laryngitis. It can also help your larynx heal.

You may need surgery if your vocal cords have been damaged, such as by sores or polyps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about laryngitis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 28, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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