What is laryngitis?
Laryngitis occurs when the voice box (larynx) becomes inflamed and the vocal cords become swollen and can't vibrate properly. This causes someone to sound hoarse or to lose their voice. Normally people recover from laryngitis without treatment.
What are the symptoms of laryngitis?
The symptoms include a:
Laryngitis is often part of another illness such as a cold, so there may also be other symptoms such as:
- runny nose
- swollen glands
- painful swallowing
Hoarseness and loss of voice may worsen at first and last for up to a week after other symptoms are gone.
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What causes laryngitis?
Laryngitis is commonly caused by a viral infection, such as a cold or flu. Bacterial infection may also cause laryngitis, although this is rare. You can also get laryngitis if you strain or overuse your voice by yelling or after long periods of talking, shouting or singing.
Laryngitis is said to be chronic or long term when it lasts for more than 3 weeks. Chronic laryngitis is usually caused by:
- smoking or excessive alcohol use
- irritants such as fumes, dust and chemicals
- repeated strain on the vocal cords, such as in singers
- an injury to the vocal cords or growths on the vocal cords
- a sinus infection
How is laryngitis diagnosed?
Since laryngitis will usually get better on its own, you don’t need to see your doctor. However, if you have trouble breathing, your lymph nodes are swollen or your symptoms last more than 2 weeks, see your doctor.
Your doctor will probably ask you a few questions to find out the cause of your laryngitis. They may order some tests or refer you to a specialist if they suspect anything serious.
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How is laryngitis treated?
Short-term laryngitis doesn’t usually require treatment. As the cause is often viral, you won’t need antibiotics as antibiotics don't kill viruses. You can use paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin to help with symptoms such as a headache, fever and sore throat.
You can help your voice recover by:
- drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol
- avoiding smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke
- gargling with warm, salty water or sucking a lozenge
- resting your voice by talking as little as possible and avoiding shouting
- avoiding whispering, as this puts more strain on your voice than normal speech
- inhale steam to help a blocked nose
- avoid nasal decongestants (these make your throat drier)
If your symptoms haven't improved after 2 weeks, see your doctor as you may need medicine.
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Last reviewed: March 2021