A Guide to Laryngitis

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
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Laryngitis refers to inflammation of the larynx, which is an area in your neck that helps you breathe and speak. Symptoms include hoarseness, a sore throat, and coughing. Viral infections commonly cause laryngitis, but non-viral factors — such as acid reflux and allergies — can also contribute. Laryngitis can be acute or chronic. The acute type usually lasts about 3–7 days, while the chronic type can last over 3 weeks.

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options associated with laryngitis.

What is laryngitis?

A woman singing
Shiho Fukada/Stocksy United

Laryngitis occurs when the larynx becomes inflamed.

The larynx, also called the voice box, is a hollow area located near the front of your neck. It contains vocal cords that vibrate to enable you to speak. It also prevents food and other particles from entering your lungs and allows you to breathe.

According to a 2021 article, acute laryngitis usually affects people ages 18–40 years, but it can occur at any age.

What are the causes of laryngitis?

Laryngitis commonly results from a viral infection and is usually associated with a cold or the flu. However, laryngitis can have other underlying causes.

Other possible causes of acute laryngitis include:

  • Bacterial infections: Bacteria, such as those responsible for pneumonia, can cause laryngitis.
  • Fungal infections: Candida and other fungi can also cause laryngitis. People who use steroid inhalers to treat asthma may be more susceptible to fungal laryngitis.

Possible causes of chronic laryngitis include:

  • Allergies: Some people get laryngitis from reactions to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, and animal dander.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): This refers to when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, which is the tube connecting your stomach and mouth. Without treatment, it can lead to laryngitis.
  • Vocal trauma: Repeated shouting or loud speaking can also cause laryngitis.

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

Laryngitis symptoms typically appear suddenly and worsen during the first 3 days of infection.

You may experience:

Children may also have fever and a loss of appetite with acute laryngitis. In rare cases, they may have difficulty breathing.

How do doctors diagnose laryngitis?

To diagnose laryngitis, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or a speech pathologist may perform a voice analysis. This analysis entails assessing the pitch and volume of your voice.

Your ENT specialist may also perform a fiberoptic laryngoscopy, which involves inserting a flexible, narrow tube fitted with a camera through your nose or mouth into your throat. This procedure allows the specialist to get a closer view of your throat and larynx.

In some cases, your healthcare professional may swab the back of your throat to test for infection.

What are the treatments for laryngitis?

Treating laryngitis typically involves avoiding things that can irritate your throat, though medication may

sometimes be necessary.

Some home remedies include:

  • Staying hydrated: Try to drink plenty of water, especially during the day. 
  • Avoiding dry environments: You can use a humidifier to moisturize the air in your room. Sufficient moisture may provide relief from certain symptoms.
  • Gargling with warm salt water: This method may reduce swelling and ease pain.
  • Avoiding excessive speaking: Resting your throat is one of the best ways to help alleviate throat pain. If you do have to talk, speak at a typical volume. Whispering stresses the vocal cords.

If your symptoms do not resolve, your doctor may recommend:

  • antibiotics if you have severe symptoms from a bacterial infection
  • oral antifungal agents, such as fluconazole, to treat fungal laryngitis
  • anti-reflux medications to treat acid reflux, such as H2 receptor and proton pump blocking agents
  • lifestyle and dietary changes for GERD
  • the treatment of any underlying allergies

What does recovery from laryngitis look like?

Recovery from acute laryngitis typically takes less than 3–4 weeks. Chronic laryngitis may take longer than that to resolve.

Following your doctor’s treatment plan and avoiding any irritants are the best ways to accelerate your recovery.

What are some potential complications of laryngitis?

Laryngitis is rarely serious, but the symptoms may indicate a more serious condition in children.

Contact a doctor immediately if your child presents with any of these symptoms:

What are the risk factors for laryngitis?

A range of factors can predispose a person to laryngitis.

Such factors include environmental issues, medical conditions, and lifestyle choices, such as:

  • Having exposure to seasonal or constant air pollution: Pollution can irritate the vocal cords.
  • Inhaling chemical fumes: Chemical fumes can cause swelling of the vocal cords. Strongly scented chemicals, such as perfumes and detergents, may trigger symptoms in some people.
  • Smoking: Smoking can cause hoarseness and vocal cord swelling and increase the risk of infection.
  • Consuming alcohol: Alcohol consumption can increase the rate of dehydration and reduce throat moisture.
  • Having an underlying condition: Certain respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis, can also increase a person’s risk of laryngitis.

Is it possible to prevent laryngitis?

Certain lifestyle decisions can lower your risk of laryngitis, including:

  • avoiding soda and beverages that contain caffeine, as these can dry out the throat
  • staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water 
  • avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
  • avoiding people who are sick
  • washing your hands regularly and correctly

When should you contact a doctor for laryngitis?

In rare cases, laryngitis can present very serious symptoms. These symptoms may persist over time and might not be associated with an illness.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

FAQ

Here are a few other questions that people have asked about laryngitis.

What is the fastest way to cure laryngitis?

The fastest way to cure laryngitis depends on the cause.

The right home remedies can help resolve laryngitis that developed due to a cold or similar infection. They include resting the voice, staying hydrated, and gargling with salt water. It is also important to closely follow your doctor’s treatment plan.

If a lifestyle factor such as smoking or GERD has caused your laryngitis, avoiding smoking and making dietary or medication changes for GERD can help resolve your symptoms.

Is laryngitis contagious?

Laryngitis due to a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection can be contagious. Laryngitis that results from lifestyle factors or noninfectious underlying causes, such as GERD or asthma, is not contagious.

Summary

Laryngitis occurs when the larynx becomes inflamed. Common symptoms include a persistent urge to clear your throat, a sore throat, and a hoarse voice.

It typically results from a viral infection. Other infections, some lifestyle factors, and certain underlying conditions can also cause laryngitis.

To treat the condition, your doctor may advise you to stay hydrated and avoid dry environments. They may also administer antibiotics or anti-reflux medications, depending on the underlying cause.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have symptoms consistent with laryngitis.

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Medical Reviewer: Nicole Leigh Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FACS, FAAP
Last Review Date: 2022 May 13
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.