Laryngitis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the voice box (larynx). The problem is most often associated with hoarseness or loss of voice.
The voice box (larynx) is located at the top of the airway to the lungs (trachea). The larynx contains the vocal cords. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness. Sometimes the airway can get blocked.
The most common form of laryngitis is an infection caused by a virus. It may also be caused by:
- Bacterial infection
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritants and chemicals
Laryngitis often occurs with an upper respiratory infection, which is typically caused by a virus.
Several forms of laryngitis occur in children that can lead to dangerous or fatal respiratory blockage. These forms include:
Symptoms may include:
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands in the neck
Exams and Tests
A physical exam can find whether hoarseness is caused by a respiratory tract infection.
People with hoarseness that lasts more than a month (especially smokers) will need to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). Tests of the throat and upper airway will be done.
Common laryngitis is often caused by a virus, so antibiotics likely will not help. Your health care provider will make this decision.
Resting your voice helps to reduce inflammation of the vocal cords. A humidifier may soothe the scratchy feeling that comes with laryngitis. Decongestants and pain medicines may relieve the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.
Laryngitis that is not caused by a serious condition often gets better on its own.
In rare cases, severe respiratory distress develops. This requires immediate medical attention.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- A small child who is not teething has difficulty breathing, swallowing, or is drooling
- A child less than 3 months old has hoarseness
- Hoarseness has lasted for more than 1 week in a child, or 2 weeks in an adult
To prevent getting laryngitis:
- Try to avoid people who have upper respiratory infections during cold and flu season.
- Wash your hands often.
- DO NOT strain your voice.
- Stop smoking. This can help prevent tumors of the head and neck or lungs, which can lead to hoarseness.
Allen CT, Merati AL. Acute and chronic laryngitis. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 62.
Schwartz SR, Cohen SM, Dailey SH, et al. Clinical practice guideline: hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;141(3 Suppl 2):S1-S31. PMID: 19729111 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19729111.
Update Date 12/7/2014
Updated by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.