Laryngitis is an inflammation of your larynx (voice box), a small structure that connects your throat to your windpipe. Laryngitis occurs because of infection, irritation or overuse of the vocal cords.
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.
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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.
Laryngitis can affect people of all ages. You’re more prone to this condition if you:
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.
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.
Laryngitis may occur for several reasons. However, laryngitis causes can vary depending on whether your condition is acute or chronic:
Most laryngitis symptoms are temporary and last less than two weeks. Common warning signs include:
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.
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:
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.
The type of medication needed depends on your laryngitis symptoms. Your healthcare provider may recommend:
There are several things you can do to ease laryngitis symptoms while your body heals. Here are a few recommendations:
Though you can’t always prevent laryngitis, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk. For example:
Acute laryngitis only lasts a week or two. If you have symptoms that linger for more than three weeks, you may have chronic laryngitis.
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.
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:
If you have any questions or concerns about your condition, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Here are some questions to consider:
Though not common, it can be. Because coronavirus COVID-19 affects your upper airway, your larynx may become inflamed or irritated.
Though it might be tempting to whisper when you have laryngitis, it actually puts more strain on your vocal cords.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/17/2022.
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