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Laryngitis is swelling of the voice box, including the vocal cords. Vocal cords normally create sounds by opening and closing. Swelling makes movement of the vocal cords difficult, which makes you sound hoarse or prevents sounds.

Causes of Laryngitis

Laryngitis is caused by irritation, overuse or infection of the voice box. 

Less often laryngitis may be caused by certain medical conditions such as:

  • Noncancerous growths on the focal cords
  • Functional dysphonia — abnormal use of the vocal mechanisms despite normal anatomy
  • Laryngeal papilloma — growths on the larynx caused by HPV infection
  • Muscle tension dysphonia — a voice disorder caused by excessive or unequal tension while speaking
  • Reinkes edema — an accumulation of fluid in the vocal cords, usually associated with smoking
  • Spasmodic dysphonia — a condition resulting in irregular voice breaks
  • Vocal cord paralysis — weakness or immobility of the vocal cords
  • Autoimmune and granulomatous conditions

Are You at Risk?

Factors that increase your chance of laryngitis include:

  • Upper respiratory tract infection — often caused by a virus, like a cold
  • Yelling, singing and speaking loudly for extended periods of time
  • Inhaling airborne irritants — such as cigarette smoke or chemicals
  • Allergies to dust, mold and pollen
  • Uncontrolled gastroesophageal reflux disease — stomach acid that rises up in the throat
  • Using inhaled asthma medications
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Bacterial or fungal infections — much less common

Symptoms of Laryngitis

Laryngitis may cause:

  • Hoarseness (raspiness, breathiness and strain) or loss of voice
  • Changes in volume (loudness) or in pitch (how high or low the voice is)
  • Sore throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Cough
  • Runny nose

Diagnosing Laryngitis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your doctor may examine your voice box with a flexible, lighted scope. You may need further tests if you have:

  • Hoarseness that has no obvious cause or has lasted longer than 2-3 weeks
  • Hoarseness with difficulty swallowing or breathing, coughing up blood, a lump in the neck or throat pain that is more severe than expected with the common cold (emergency medical evaluation is indicated)
  • Complete loss of voice or severe change in voice lasting longer than a few days

You may be referred to a specialist, if your laryngitis does not have an easily identified cause or cure.

Treatment for Laryngitis

Laryngitis often goes away on its own once the underlying cause is managed. Underlying causes may require medication or treatment.

Swelling and discomfort of the vocal cords can be managed with home care such as:

  • Resting your voice
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoiding smoking or second hand smoke
  • Nonprescription pain relievers (like acetaminophen, ibuprofen) as needed
  • Steam or cold mist inhalation

Other steps depend on the cause of laryngitis, for example:

  • Rest your voice.
  • It may take up to two weeks for your voice to completely return after a cold, flu or viral respiratory infection.
  • Manage your acid reflux with medications and lifestyle changes.
  • You may need antibiotics if the laryngitis is associated with a bacterial or fungal infection.

Voice Therapy

You may need voice therapy to treat problems like vocal overuse or chronic laryngitis. Voice therapy consists of:

  • Voice education
  • Healthy use of the voice
  • Instruction in proper voice technique and use of the breathing muscles


Call us at 434.243.3675.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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