Laryngology is a branch of medicine that deals with illnesses and injuries of your larynx (or voice box). This is a special section of otolaryngology, which focuses on the ear, nose and throat. Laryngologists are specialists in laryngology, who treat conditions ranging from laryngitis and vocal cord nodules to laryngeal cancer.

What is laryngology?

Laryngology is a medical specialty that diagnoses and treats issues with your larynx (voice box). Your larynx sits in the front of your neck. It holds your vocal cords and helps you speak, make sounds and swallow. It’s also the entrance to your windpipe and plays an important role in helping you breathe.

You might need to see a laryngologist if you have an issue with your larynx. You might think of a laryngologist as a voice box specialist or doctor.


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What does a laryngologist do?

A laryngologist diagnoses and treats conditions affecting your larynx. They prescribe medications and deliver treatments (including performing surgeries). They educate you on ways to care for your larynx. Laryngologists coordinate care with other specialists when needed.

They treat a range of diseases affecting your larynx, including:

Laryngologists are experts at diagnosing and treating vocal cord injuries. This includes injuries from overusing or misusing your voice. They can also treat injuries related to surgeries to your neck or throat. Surgery to your thyroid gland, vascular surgery, thoracic surgery and placement of a breathing tube can all damage your larynx. A laryngologist can help.

Laryngologist vs. otolaryngologist

Laryngology is a subspecialty within otolaryngology. This means that a laryngologist is an otolaryngologist (ENT) specializing in the larynx. Otolaryngologists diagnose and treat conditions affecting your ear, nose and throat. This is why they’re sometimes called ear, nose and throat specialists (ENTs). Laryngologists have expertise in voice, airway and swallowing disorders involving your voice box.

Think of it this way: All laryngologists are also otolaryngologists, but not all otolaryngologists are laryngologists.

What conditions do laryngologists treat?

You may meet with a laryngologist to diagnose or treat any of the following conditions:

  • Dysphagia: Dysphagia is difficulty swallowing. It happens when your larynx doesn’t close tightly enough when you swallow or when your throat doesn’t move food to your esophagus in a coordinated way. It’s common after a stroke. Dysphagia can also occur after neck surgery or radiation treatments for head and neck cancer.
  • Laryngeal cancer: Laryngeal cancer is cancer that starts in your voice box. People who smoke are at increased risk of developing this cancer. People who smoke and drink alcohol excessively (more than one drink daily) are even more likely to develop it.
  • Laryngeal papillomatosis: Laryngeal papillomatosis is a chronic (long-lasting) infection. The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes it. These noncancerous, wart-like tumors grow inside your larynx. They can spread throughout your respiratory tract, from your nose into your lungs.
  • Laryngeal stenosis: Laryngeal stenosis is the narrowing of the part of your airway containing your larynx. It can happen if scar tissue builds up in your airway or if you can’t move both vocal cords. Causes include illnesses that cause inflammation, disorders that cause muscle weakness and injuries to your larynx.
  • Laryngitis: Laryngitis is inflammation (swelling) of your voice box. Infections, smoking, chronic acid reflux (GERD) and straining your vocal cords are all potential causes.
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR): Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) occurs when stomach acid flows upward into your esophagus and, eventually, your throat. It can cause heartburn, coughing, hoarseness and a sore throat.
  • Spasmodic dysphonia: Spasmodic dysphonia is a rare nervous system condition where muscles in your larynx tighten or spasm without your control when you talk. It can cause your voice to sound strained, strangled or intermittently breathy.
  • Vocal cord hemorrhage: Vocal cord hemorrhage is when one or more blood vessels on your vocal cords break, and the soft tissues inside fill with blood. Shouting, screaming and straining your vocal cords in general are potential causes.
  • Vocal cord lesions: Vocal cord lesions include nodules, polyps and cysts. These noncancerous growths can form on one or both vocal cords. They’re most common in people who frequently use their voice, including singers, teachers, lawyers and salespeople.
  • Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD): Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) involves your vocal cords closing when you need them to be open to breathe. It has many potential causes, including GERD, an irritant in your environment, exercise or even stress.
  • Vocal cord paralysis: Vocal cord paralysis happens when one or both vocal cords don’t open or close properly. Symptoms include trouble speaking, difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath.
  • Voice disorders:Voice disorders include various conditions and symptoms that affect your larynx or vocal cords. Causes range from simple illnesses, like the common cold, to more serious conditions that involve nerve or muscle damage to your larynx. The most common cause is overusing or misusing your voice.


What education and training do you need to become a laryngologist?

Laryngologists complete all the training required of otolaryngologists. Then, they complete a fellowship to specialize in laryngology. Laryngologists in the U.S. need:

  • An undergraduate degree (about four years).
  • A medical degree (about four years).
  • Specialty training in otolaryngology (about five years).
  • Board certification (candidates must pass the American Board of Otolaryngology exam).
  • A postgraduate fellowship in laryngology (about two years).

When should I see a laryngologist?

Your primary care provider may refer you to a laryngologist if you have breathing or swallowing issues involving your larynx. Or you may reach out to a laryngologist if you’re having symptoms, like hoarseness, that don’t improve. Frequent vocal abuse and misuse can cause changes in how your vocal cords work. These changes can cause long-term damage without treatment. If you have unexplained hoarseness that lasts longer than two to four weeks, see an otolaryngologist or laryngologist.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

All otolaryngologists train to successfully treat most conditions affecting your head and neck. This includes conditions involving your voice box. Still, depending on your condition’s complexity, it may be a good idea to see a laryngologist in particular. (Laryngology is a subspecialty within otolaryngology.) They’re the undisputed experts when it comes to your larynx. They can diagnose your condition and deliver treatment. They can also coordinate care with other specialists to ensure you receive holistic care. If you’re a person whose career depends on your vocal health — like a public speaker, actor, singer, teacher or salesperson — it’s an excellent idea to have a laryngologist on your care team.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 05/05/2023.

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