Laryngitis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the voice box (larynx).Laryngitis is usually associated with hoarseness or loss of voice.
The voice box (larynx) is located at the top of the airway to the lungs (trachea). The larynx contains the vocal cords. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness. Sometimes the airway can getblocked.
The most common form of laryngitis is an infection caused by a virus, such as cold or flu viruses. It may also be caused by:
- Bacterial infection
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritants and chemicals
Laryngitis often occurs with an upper respiratory infection.
Several forms of laryngitis occur in children that can lead to dangerous or fatal respiratory blockage. These forms include:
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands in the neck
Exams and Tests
A physical exam can findwhether hoarseness is caused by a respiratory tract infection.
Patients with hoarseness that lasts more than a month (especially smokers) will need to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) for tests of the throat and upper airway.
Common laryngitis is often caused by a virus, thereforeantibiotics likely willnot help. Your health care provider will make this decision.
Resting your voice helpsto reduce inflammation of the vocal cords. A humidifier may soothe the scratchy feeling that comes with laryngitis. Decongestants and pain medicinesmay relieve the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.
Laryngitis that is not caused by a serious conditionoftengets better on its own.
In rare cases, severe respiratory distress develops. This requires immediatemedical attention.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- A small child who is not teething has difficulty breathing, swallowing, or is drooling
- A child less than 3 months old has hoarseness
- Hoarseness has lasted for more than 1 week in a child, or 2 weeks in an adult
- Try to avoid people who have upper respiratory infections during cold and flu season.
- Wash your hands often.
- Do not strain your voice.
- Stopping smokingcan help prevent tumors of the head and neck or lungs, whichcan lead to hoarseness.
Merati AL. Acute and chronic laryngitis. Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund VJ et al. eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2010; chap 63.
Schwartz SR, Cohen SM, Dailey SH, et al. Clinical practice guideline: hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;141(3 Suppl 2):S1-S31.
Review Date: 11/10/2012
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.