Medical Conditions - Laryngitis

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The Facts

Laryngitis occurs when the part of the throat called the larynx becomes inflamed. When this happens, it causes a severe hoarseness that can make your voice "croak" or have to whisper when you talk. It can even lead to temporary loss of your voice.

The inflammation is quite common and is really a symptom that’s been caused by some other factor or condition. Yelling too enthusiastically at a hockey game can cause it, but so can viral and bacterial infections or other illnesses. Finding out the real cause of laryngitis is an important part of getting your voice back. There are two types of laryngitis: acute and chronic.


Acute laryngitis refers to hoarseness or loss of voice that appears suddenly after a night of singing and shouting, or being exposed to a lot of cigarette smoke. This condition usually improves when you avoid whatever has been irritating the throat (like cigarettes) and when you rest your voice. It is usually self-limiting, lasting less than 3 weeks. The common cold and influenza (the flu) are common causes of acute laryngitis, but it can also be a symptom of bronchitis, pneumonia, pertussis, diphtheria and measles. Hoarseness may also be part of an allergic reaction.

Chronic laryngitis lasts longer than a week and comes back over time. This condition can involve permanent changes in the lining of the throat. These changes could be due to repeated attacks of acute laryngitis like those sometimes experienced by professional singers, or happen because of repeated exposure to smoke, dust, dryness, or other irritants. Chronic laryngitis can also be caused by allergies and postnasal drip or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD; when stomach acids rise up into the esophagus and cause burning).

Rarer causes of chronic laryngitis include cancer of the throat, noncancerous tumours on the vocal cords, and noncancerous wart-like lesions called papillomas that grow in the throat.

Symptoms and Complications

Many people with laryngitis get very hoarse or even lose their voice for a short time. You may feel a tickling or rawness in your throat and experience a constant need to clear it. Symptoms vary with how badly the throat is inflamed.

When other symptoms accompany the laryngitis, such as fever, general aches and pains, and throat pain, a viral infection is usually responsible.

Making the Diagnosis

Laryngitis is often a symptom of some other health problem, so finding out its root cause is the first step to getting better. If your doctor finds no other health problems, knowing the cause of your throat inflammation means you can take steps to avoid getting laryngitis in the future.

When hoarseness is accompanied by a weak voice and lasts more than 3 weeks, your doctor may want to do a test on your throat to rule out cancer, especially if you’re a smoker. This test, called a laryngoscopy, involves your doctor directly looking at your voice box with a mirror or a small flexible scope that goes down your nose.

If the laryngitis is caused by acid reflux, redness and swelling will be found during the laryngoscopy.

Treatment and Prevention

If your laryngitis comes from straining your voice, resting it and breathing in steam will probably ease the pain and inflammation and help you recover. Cough drops can also help soothe the symptoms. On the other hand, if your laryngitis is a symptom of an infection, it won’t go away until the infection clears up. If the laryngitis is caused by bronchitis or another bacterial infection, antibiotics may be needed. Most infections are caused by viruses and will clear up on their own without the use of antibiotics. When acid reflux or allergies are the source of irritation, bringing these conditions under control will make you feel better quickly.

Avoiding voice strain and irritants is the best way to prevent simple attacks of laryngitis. If you get a cold or flu and it feels like you are getting laryngitis as well, avoid things that irritate your throat. Remember to pace yourself and try not to push your voice by talking if you don’t have to. These steps may help to stop laryngitis in its tracks. Quitting smoking is another important way to treat both acute and chronic laryngitis.

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