Laryngitis is an inflammation of your voice box (larynx) from overuse, irritation or infection.
Inside the larynx are your vocal cords — two folds of mucous membrane covering muscle and cartilage. Normally your vocal cords open and close smoothly, forming sounds through their movement and vibration. But in laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. This swelling causes distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them. As a result, your voice sounds hoarse. In some cases of laryngitis, your voice can become almost undetectable.
Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic). Most cases of laryngitis are triggered by temporary viral infection or vocal strain and are not serious. Persistent hoarseness can sometimes signal a more serious underlying medical condition.
In most cases laryngitis symptoms last less than a couple of weeks and are caused by something minor, such as a cold. Less often, laryngitis symptoms are caused by something more serious or long lasting. Laryngitis signs and symptoms can include:
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with a doctor:
Seek immediate medical attention if your child:
These symptoms may indicate croup — inflammation of the larynx and the airway just beneath it. Although croup can usually be treated at home, severe symptoms require medical attention.
Less common causes of chronic laryngitis include:
Other causes of chronic hoarseness include:
How speech occurs
Speech occurs when air flows from the lungs, up the windpipe (trachea) and through the voice box (larynx). This causes the vocal cords to vibrate, creating sound. Sound is shaped into words by the ...
Vocal cords open and closed
Risk factors for laryngitis include:
In some cases of laryngitis caused by infection, the infection may spread to other parts of the respiratory tract.
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor specializing in disorders of the ear, nose and throat.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important, in case time runs out. For laryngitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
The most common sign of laryngitis is hoarseness. Changes in your voice can vary with the degree of infection or irritation, ranging from mild hoarseness to almost total loss of your voice. If you have chronic hoarseness, your doctor may want to listen to your voice and to examine your vocal cords, and he or she may refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
These techniques are sometimes used to help diagnose laryngitis:
Treatments and drugs
Acute laryngitis caused by a virus often gets better on its own within a week or so. Self-care measures can also help improve symptoms.
Chronic laryngitis treatments are aimed at treating the underlying causes, such as heartburn, smoking or excessive use of alcohol.
Medications used in some cases include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
Some self-care methods and home treatments may relieve the symptoms of laryngitis and reduce strain on your voice:
To prevent dryness or irritation to your vocal cords:
Last Updated: 2010-04-03
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