Laryngitis

Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx—also called your voice box—from irritation, overuse, or infection. About two inches in length and located at the top of your windpipe (airway), your larynx contains your vocal cords and plays a role when you talk, breathe, or swallow.

Inflammation or irritation causes your vocal cords to swell and distorts the sounds that air carries over them, making your voice sound hoarse. If the swelling is severe, you may not be able to make your voice heard at all, a condition called aphonia that most people describe as "losing" their voice.

Laryngitis isn’t usually serious. However, hoarseness that doesn’t go away, even after treatment, could be a symptom of a more serious problem and should be reported to your healthcare provider.

This article will discuss the symptoms of laryngitis, as well as its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

laryngitis treatment
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell​

Laryngitis Symptoms

Your vocal cords consist of two folds of mucous membranes wrapped around cartilage and muscle; they normally form sounds by smoothly opening and closing as well as vibrating. When the vocal cords are inflamed, they may cause symptoms that include:

  • Hoarseness
  • A lowered voice
  • Complete loss of your voice (aphonia)
  • Feeling a constant need to clear your throat
  • Throat pain

If an infection is the cause of your laryngitis, symptoms may include fever and swollen lymph nodes.

Causes of Laryngitis

The most common causes of laryngitis include:

Rarely, laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Laryngitis that lasts less than a few weeks is called acute laryngitis. Long-term or chronic laryngitis is laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks.

In some cases, long-lasting laryngitis, or more specifically, hoarseness, can be a symptom of vocal nodules or vocal polyps. It can also be a symptom of laryngeal cancer.

How to Treat Laryngitis

One of the best ways to treat laryngitis, and certainly the simplest, is not talking at all. It can be frustrating to not speak, but it really is the best means of treating your laryngitis. If necessary, you can communicate by writing.

Contrary to popular belief, whispering does not rest your voice. In fact, it can actually agitate your vocal cords and make your hoarseness worse.

Other treatments depend on the underlying cause of your laryngitis and may include:

  • Using a cough suppressant
  • Drinking water throughout the day
  • Avoiding cigarettes and other forms of smoking
  • Using a cool mist humidifier
  • Taking medications to control GERD
  • Using decongestants
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving medications

If you don’t start feeling better within a reasonable time and your healthcare provider thinks a bacterial infection may be the cause, they may prescribe an antibiotic.

Are There Tests to Diagnose the Cause of Laryngitis?

Laryngitis usually gets better on its own. If you need to see your practitioner, they will most likely base the diagnosis on your specific set of symptoms and your medical history. A physical examination may reveal things like swollen glands, indicating an infection.

If necessary, your healthcare provider may also look at your larynx with a special mirror or an endoscope. You’re more likely to undergo endoscopy if you’ve had laryngitis longer than a few weeks.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you don't have an idea of what has caused your laryngitis or if it lasts longer than a few weeks or is accompanied by other symptoms (such as fever) you should see a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause.

Summary

Laryngitis is the term for an inflammation of the larynx. It is most commonly caused by a respiratory virus or by overuse of the voice and can cause hoarseness or even a complete loss of the voice. Usually, laryngitis goes away on its own. The best treatment is to avoid talking until it resolves.

A Word From Verywell

Laryngitis is a condition that usually goes away on its own. However, if you find that your symptoms are persisting, contact your healthcare provider. If you have laryngitis, avoid doing anything that could worsen the condition such as speaking and smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes laryngitis?

    The most common causes of laryngitis include an upper respiratory infection (such as a cold), overusing the voice (e.g., shouting), and allergies.

  • How can I get rid of laryngitis?

    The best cure for laryngitis is to avoid talking. Over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants, and staying well-hydrated are also helpful.

  • Is laryngitis a sign of throat cancer?

    Hoarseness can sometimes be a cause of laryngeal cancer if it lasts for several weeks and has no other obvious cause.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Laryngitis.

  2. Cancer Research UK. What is laryngeal cancer?

  3. NHS. Laryngitis.

  4. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Laryngitis.

  5. Wood JM, Athanasiadis T, Allen J. Laryngitis. BMJ. 2014;349:g5827. doi:10.1136/bmj.g5827

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vocal Cord Disorders.

  7. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of laryngeal and hypopharyngeal cancers.

  8. Keck Medicine of USC. USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. Why you shouldn't whisper with a hoarse voice.

  9. Reveiz L, Cardona AF. Antibiotics for acute laryngitis in adultsCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(5):CD004783. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004783.pub5

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.