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What is Laryngitis? (Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options)

August 21st, 2019 | 5 min. read

By Michael P Underbrink, MD

Laryngitis Signs Symptoms and When to Seek Treatment


Laryngitis is a condition many individuals have dealt with at some point in their lives. Most laryngitis cases are temporary, improving once the underlying cause becomes better, however, some people do end up with chronic laryngitis. In their lifetime, it's thought that 21 percent of the population might develop chronic laryngitis. In some cases, an infection causes it could spread to other areas of your respiratory tract.

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shutterstock_1100720753 (1)What is Laryngitis? 

Let's take a look at the laryngitis definition.

Laryngitis is an inflammation of your larynx (voice box) from irritation, overuse or infection. Your vocal cords are inside your larynx. These are two folds of mucous membrane that covers cartilage and muscle. Typically, vocal cords open and close without problems, forming sounds through their vibration and movement. 

With laryngitis, however, they become irritated and inflamed, causing distortion of the sounds air passing over them produces. This results in your voice sounding hoarse. Your voice can even become nearly undetectable in some cases of laryngitis.


What are the Types of Laryngitis?

There are two main types of laryngitis:  acute and chronic. Acute laryngitis is short-lived, whereas chronic laryngitis is long-lasting. 

How long does laryngitis last? This depends on the type you have. Acute laryngitis comes on suddenly and can last for up to two weeks. Chronic laryngitis, on the other hand, can last for weeks, and in some cases, for months.

Most laryngitis cases aren't serious and are often triggered by a temporary vocal strain or viral infection. If you have persistent hoarseness, this could signal something more serious.



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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Laryngitis?

Laryngitis often occurs because of another illness like bronchitis, the flu or a cold. Symptoms include:

  • Hoarseness

  • Sore throat

  • A dry cough

  • A low-grade fever

  • Swollen glands

  • A constant urge to clear your throat

  • Trouble speaking

If you overuse your voice (i.e. public speaker, singer), smoke or are prone to the flu, bronchitis or colds, you have a greater chance of getting laryngitis.


Is Laryngitis Contagious? 

The viruses that laryngitis comes from aren't that contagious. The time laryngitis is most contagious is during the time frame when you have a fever. Bacterial and fungal infection-causing laryngitis is potentially contagious, but these occur less frequently.

Other laryngitis causes that aren't contagious are:

  • Chemical pollutants or irritants

  • Mechanical overuse of your larynx (i.e. strenuous singing or talking)

  • Another underlying health problem (i.e. throat cancer) 


What are the Causes of Laryngitis?

The causes of laryngitis differ for each type.

Acute laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Straining your vocal cords by yelling or talking

  • Viral infections

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Bacterial infections

Chronic laryngitis can result from:

  • Acid reflux

  • Long-term irritant exposure

  • Overusing your voice

  • Frequent sinus infections

  • Being around smokers or smoking yourself

  • Low-grade yeast infections that frequent asthma inhaler use causes

Vocal cord paralysis, cancer or changes in the shape of your vocal cord as you age can cause persistent sore throats and hoarseness.


How is Laryngitis Diagnosed?

Hoarseness is the most common sign of the condition. You can have different variations of changes in your voice, depending on the degree of irritation or infection, ranging from mild hoarseness to virtually complete loss of your voice. Your doctor might want to examine your vocal cords and listen to your voice if you have chronic hoarseness. They might refer you to another professional like an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Your doctor may use these techniques to help diagnose laryngitis:

  • Biopsy: If the doctor sees an area they find suspicious, they might perform a biopsy where they take a sample of tissue to examine under a microscope.

  • Laryngoscopy: The doctor can examine your vocal cords visually during laryngoscopy through the use of a light and small mirror to see the back of your throat. They might use a fiber-optic laryngoscopy which involves the insertion of a flexible, think tube (endoscope) with a small light and camera into your mouth or nose and into the back of your throat. They'll then watch your vocal cords' motion as you talk.

They'll examine your throat to identify what's causing your laryngitis. The cause of your laryngitis will determine the treatment.


How Do You Prepare for Your Laryngitis Appointment?

First, you’ll probably see your family doctor or pediatrician. They’ll then refer you to an ENT specialist if needed. 

There are certain things you can do to prepare for your appointment, such as:

  • Becoming aware of anything you should do in advance.

  • Writing down important personal information like recent life changes or major stresses.

  • Writing down your symptoms, including those that appear unrelated.

  • Making a list of all medicines you’re currently taking, including vitamins and supplements.

  • Writing down all the questions you have for the doctor.

  • Bringing along a friend or family member for support or to help you remember information you forgot or missed.


What are the Treatment Options for Laryngitis?

Some treatment options for laryngitis are:

1. Rest

If you sing or speak for a living, you may just need to rest your voice until the inflammation goes away. After you recover, you should limit your talking to prevent a flare-up of the condition. If speaking or singing isn't part of your profession, getting extra rest should help with your recovery.

2. Hydration

The doctor might also suggest you use a humidifier in your house to add moisture to your atmosphere and help soothe your irritated and scratchy throat. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.

Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine since these substances can cause an increase in laryngeal inflammation. You can also suck on lozenges to keep your throat moist. Avoid substances that contain menthol-like cough drops since they can irritate your throat.

3. Medications

Most of the cases of infectious laryngitis are due to viruses, which typically is acute laryngitis that goes away over time. The doctor might prescribe you antibiotics in the rare case your laryngitis is due to a bacterial infection.

Chronic laryngitis treatment is aimed at treating the underlying cause and therefore will vary. The doctor might prescribe you pain relievers, antihistamine or a glucocorticosteroid. If you're suffering from stomach acid refluxing that's entering your voice box, the doctor might some type of therapy for addressing this.

You may receive corticosteroids which help reduce inflammation in your vocal cords. But, the doctor will only use this treatment if there's an urgent need for treating the laryngitis, such as if you use your voice to give an oral presentation, speech or sing or sometimes for toddlers whose laryngitis is due to croup.

4. Surgery

In a case where your chronic laryngitis has resulted in loose or paralyzed vocal cords or vocal cord polyps, it's thought to be more serious. The doctor might suggest surgery in these cases if they've caused substantial vocal cord dysfunction.

They typically remove vocal cord polyp as an outpatient procedure. They might suggest collagen injections or surgery for paralyzed or loose vocal cords.


How Can You Prevent Laryngitis?

General healthy habits can help prevent chronic laryngitis. Avoiding contact with others who have a cold or the flu and washing your hands will limit your chances of catching a virus.

If you use your voice excessively for a living, you should take breaks often. Speak with your doctor about other preventive measures you can take to reduce the chance of inflammation.

Avoid working in an area where you're constantly exposed to harmful chemicals. If you smoke, quit right away to lower your risk of inflammation.

You can also lower your risk of chronic laryngitis by properly treating stomach acid reflux. Avoid excessive alcohol intake too. 


Contact Houston ENT & Allergy Services  for their Voice and Swallowing Center Specialist

Houston ENT Clinic provides the highest level of care from birth to seniors, providing you and your family with informative patient education and the most up-to-date treatment. If you're suffering from laryngitis or you have another issue like sinus problems, allergies, tonsils or tubes or balance or hearing issues, contact Houston ENT Clinic to set up an appointment.

By: Michael P Underbrink, MD


Click the button below to learn more about the Houston Voice and Swallowing Center and it's physician Michael Underbrink, MD


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Michael P Underbrink, MD