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Laryngitis

Key points

  • Laryngitis is when your larynx (voice box) becomes inflamed.
  • It’s usually caused by an infection.
  • Symptoms may include a sore throat, a fever, hoarseness (a strained, raspy voice) or difficulty swallowing.
  • Acute laryngitis can develop quite suddenly, but it usually gets better on its own. Chronic laryngitis is when your symptoms last for more than three weeks.

Laryngitis is inflammation of your larynx (voice box), usually caused by an infection.

About laryngitis

Laryngitis is when your larynx becomes inflamed. It's often caused by a viral infection.

Your larynx is found at the front of your neck at the level of your 'Adam's apple'. It’s often much easier to notice in men than it is in women. It’s an air passage that extends from your tongue to your wind pipe (trachea) and produces the sounds you make when you speak. It also stops food entering your wind pipe and allows you to breathe.

Illustration showing location of the larynx and surrounding structures

Types of laryngitis

There are two types of laryngitis. Acute laryngitis starts suddenly and will usually go away on its own. This is the most common type of laryngitis. If your symptoms last for more than three weeks, this is known as chronic laryngitis. The term ‘chronic’ refers to how long you may have laryngitis, not to how serious the condition is.

Symptoms of laryngitis

Your symptoms can vary depending on how inflamed your larynx is. The possible symptoms include:

  • hoarseness (a strained, raspy voice)
  • losing your voice (not being able to speak)
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a sore throat
  • a fever

These symptoms aren’t always caused by laryngitis and may be caused by other problems. If you have any of these symptoms and they are persistent, see your GP for advice.

Complications of laryngitis

If you have acute laryngitis, you’re unlikely to have any complications. Chronic laryngitis may make you feel breathless. If you’re struggling with breathing, such as unable to complete a full sentence, you should seek urgent medical attention. Other complications of chronic laryngitis might include the loss of your voice or a chronic cough.

Causes of laryngitis

There are several possible causes of laryngitis which include:

  • a viral infection – acute laryngitis is often linked to another viral infection, such as the common cold
  • a bacterial infection
  • over-using your voice – for example, by regularly talking or singing very loudly
  • smoking
  • breathing in irritants such as dust, fumes or chemicals
  • gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – a condition where acid from your stomach leaks back up into your oesophagus (the pipe that goes from your mouth to your stomach)
  • a benign (non-cancerous) cyst on your vocal cords
  • an allergic reaction
  • bronchitis
  • the use of asthma inhalers

Diagnosis of laryngitis

Laryngitis can develop quite abruptly, but it usually gets better on its own. If your symptoms last for more than three weeks, see your GP. Your GP may refer you to a doctor who specialises in conditions of the ear, nose and throat (an ENT surgeon).

An ENT surgeon may look down your throat to find out what’s causing your symptoms. This procedure is called a laryngoscopy. It will involve the surgeon examining your larynx using a flexible tube called a laryngoscope. You will be given a local anaesthetic.

If you have a laryngoscopy. Sometimes, a biopsy (a small sample of tissue) may be taken at the same time as a laryngoscopy. If so, you’ll have a general anaesthetic.If you have chronic laryngitis with no clear cause, your surgeon may refer you to a speech therapist. They might be able to give you some exercises to do to help reduce the hoarseness of your voice.

Treatment of laryngitis

Your treatment will depend on your symptoms. Usually, you can treat laryngitis yourself at home. There are several things that you can do to help relieve your symptoms, which are listed below.

  • Try to rest your voice. Your doctor can give you advice on how long you might need to rest your voice for.
  • If you're in pain, take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and, if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
  • Breathe in air with lots of moisture in it. Try inhaling steam or using a humidifier.
  • Make sure you drink enough fluids.
  • If you smoke or drink alcohol, stop, at least until you're feeling better. Maybe it’s time to consider quitting smoking for good?
  • Try not to have drinks that contain caffeine.

Chronic laryngitis may be caused by a separate condition such as GORD or bronchitis. If you have any of these conditions, they will need to be treated. Treatment of any related conditions will help to improve the symptoms of your laryngitis.

Produced by Kuljeet Battoo, Bupa Health Information Team, April 2014.

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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