What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis occurs when your larynx, or voice box, is inflamed. The condition can develop when your vocal cords are overused, irritated or infected.
When your vocal cords function normally, they open and close smoothly, producing sounds through vibration. However, when your vocal cords are swollen, the sounds that pass through them are distorted. As a result, your voice sounds weak or hoarse.
What’s the difference between laryngitis and pharyngitis?
Though the terms laryngitis and pharyngitis sound similar, these conditions are different. Pharyngitis refers to an inflamed pharynx. It’s the medical term for a sore throat. Your pharynx starts behind your nose and ends just above your voice box. Laryngitis refers to an inflamed larynx, or voice box. Your larynx is near your pharynx, just above your windpipe.
Who can get laryngitis?
Laryngitis can affect people of all ages. You’re more prone to this condition if you:
- Overuse your voice.
- Are frequently exposed to tobacco smoke.
- Are a heavy drinker.
- Have a respiratory infection, such as bronchitis or sinusitis.
- People who are immunocompromised or who are on inhaled steroids can be at risk for fungal laryngitis.
How common is laryngitis?
There are two types of laryngitis: acute and chronic. Acute laryngitis is temporary, common and usually improves once the underlying cause is treated. While some people are more prone to laryngitis, most adults develop the condition once every couple of years.
If laryngitis is present longer than three weeks, it’s considered chronic. Research suggests that about 21% of Americans will develop chronic laryngitis at some point in their lives.
How does laryngitis affect my body?
When you get laryngitis, your vocal cords become, swollen and irritated. As a result, your voice can be affected, and sometimes is reduced to a whisper.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes laryngitis?
Laryngitis may occur for several reasons. However, laryngitis causes can vary depending on whether your condition is acute or chronic:
Acute laryngitis causes
- Temporary vocal strain from yelling, singing or frequent speaking.
- Viral infections.
- Bacterial infections.
- Candida (yeast) infections.
Chronic laryngitis causes
- Persistent overuse of your voice.
- Chronic sinusitis.
- GERD (chronic acid reflux).
- Heavy drinking.
What are some common laryngitis symptoms?
Most laryngitis symptoms are temporary and last less than two weeks. Common warning signs include:
- Hoarseness, or a weak voice.
- Losing your voice.
- Sore throat.
- Tickling or rawness in your throat.
- Dry cough.
- Dry throat.
Is laryngitis contagious?
Laryngitis is only contagious if an infection caused it. For example, if you have a viral or bacterial infection that caused the condition, it’s possible to pass it on to others.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is laryngitis diagnosed?
Most of the time, you can tell if you have laryngitis because you develop symptoms such as hoarseness, a sore throat or a dry cough. If your symptoms diminish in a week or two, you probably won’t need to seek medical care. When necessary, however, your healthcare provider can determine if you have laryngitis by:
- Taking a culture. Your healthcare provider examines and swabs your throat. The sample is then treated with a substance that encourages germ growth. If germs that cause infection are found, then your culture is positive.
- Performing a laryngoscopy. A small camera called an endoscope is inserted through your nose or mouth so your healthcare provider can get a better look at your vocal cords.
- Completing a biopsy. If you have a nodule or lump on your vocal cords, your healthcare provider may take a small sample of tissue and send it to a pathology lab for analysis.
Management and Treatment
How is laryngitis treated?
Laryngitis usually goes away on its own in a week or two. The best way to recover from laryngitis is to rest your voice and drink plenty of fluids. In some cases, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to speed up the recovery process.
What medications are used for laryngitis treatment?
The type of medication needed depends on your laryngitis symptoms. Your healthcare provider may recommend:
- Antibiotics. If laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
- Antifungals. If the laryngitis is related to a candida or yeast infection, you may be given an antifungal.
- Corticosteroids. These drugs help reduce swelling and inflammation. Your healthcare provider may prescribe these in some situations.
- Pain relievers. If your laryngitis symptoms include discomfort, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen.
How can I manage my laryngitis symptoms?
There are several things you can do to ease laryngitis symptoms while your body heals. Here are a few recommendations:
- Rest your voice as much as possible.
- Drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated.
- Use a humidifier to relieve dry throat symptoms.
- Don’t whisper.
- Avoid taking decongestants, as they can dry out your throat.
Can I prevent laryngitis?
Though you can’t always prevent laryngitis, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. For example:
- Avoid smoking. Steer clear of tobacco products and areas where secondhand smoke is present.
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Incorporating whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet helps keep you healthy. These foods also ensure that the mucous membranes in the throat stay in good condition.
- Don’t clear your throat. Clearing your throat causes your vocal cords to vibrate abnormally. Swelling can occur as a result, making your throat feel more irritated.
- Avoid spicy foods. When you eat spicy foods, stomach acid can travel into the throat. This can cause heartburn or GERD.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol dehydrate your body. When you’re dehydrated, symptoms of laryngitis may worsen.
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated keeps the mucous in your throat thin, making it easy to clear.
- Wash your hands frequently. To reduce your exposure to germs, wash your hands often and avoid being around people with respiratory infections.
Outlook / Prognosis
How long does laryngitis last?
Acute laryngitis only lasts a week or two. If you have symptoms that linger for more than three weeks, you may have chronic laryngitis.
When can I go back to work or school?
Use discretion when deciding when to go back to your normal routines. If you work at a job that requires a lot of talking, then you should take some days off to recover. Additionally, you should avoid going to work or school if you may be contagious. If you’re not sure, ask your healthcare provider.
When should I see my healthcare provider?
In most cases, laryngitis can be managed by resting your voice and staying hydrated. However, if your laryngitis symptoms last longer than two weeks, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.
You should seek care immediately if your laryngitis symptoms are accompanied by:
- Difficulty breathing.
- A fever that won’t go away.
- Increasing pain.
- Coughing up blood.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
If you have any questions or concerns about your condition, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Here are some questions to consider:
- Is my laryngitis acute or chronic?
- Am I contagious?
- Do I need medication?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is laryngitis a symptom of COVID-19?
Though not common, it can be. Because coronavirus COVID-19 affects your upper airway, your larynx may become inflamed or irritated.
Why should I avoid whispering when I have laryngitis?
Though it might be tempting to whisper when you have laryngitis, it actually puts more strain on your vocal cords.
Can laryngitis turn into bronchitis or pneumonia?
Generally, no. However, if you already have bronchitis or pneumonia, the infection may travel to your larynx and cause laryngitis.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most of the time, laryngitis clears up on its own. If your symptoms are accompanied by severe pain, or if they last longer than two weeks, call your healthcare provider right away. They can help ease your discomfort and start you on the road to recovery.
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