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Laryngitis is when your voice box or vocal cords become inflamed from overuse, irritation, or infection. The two main types of this condition are chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term) laryngitis.
A variety of conditions can cause the inflammation that results in laryngitis. These include viral infections, environmental factors, and in rare cases, bacterial infections.
Acute laryngitis is a temporary condition caused by an underlying infection or overuse. Treating the underlying condition will cause the laryngitis to go away. On the other hand, chronic laryngitis results from long-term exposure to irritants. This type of laryngitis tends to be more severe and have effects that last longer.
The causes of acute laryngitis include:
The causes of chronic laryngitis include:
Other reasons behind persistent hoarseness and sore throat could be cancer, paralysis of the vocal cords, or changes in vocal cord shape that result from getting older.
The most common symptoms of laryngitis include:
In infants and small children, certain symptoms indicate a form of bacterial laryngitis called croup. Croup, which is inflammation of the throat, can lead to the development of epiglottitis. Epiglottitis occurs when tissue swells to the point that it begins to close the windpipe. This condition can be fatal if not treated quickly. Seek immediate medical treatment if your child has:
Laryngitis affects your vocal cords and voice box. Your doctor will often start with a visual diagnosis. Your doctor will use a special mirror to view your vocal cords, or they’ll perform a laryngoscopy to magnify the voice box for easy viewing. During a laryngoscopy, your doctor will stick a thin flexible tube with a microscopic camera through your mouth or nose. Your doctor will look for the following signs of laryngitis:
If your doctor notices a lesion or other suspicious mass, they may order a biopsy to rule out throat cancer. During a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small piece of tissue so it can be examined in a lab.
If a virus is the reason behind your acute laryngitis, the symptoms will more than likely disappear without treatment. Doctors treat bacterial laryngitis with antibiotics, although this form of laryngitis is rare.
Your doctor might prescribe corticosteroids (hormones that can reduce inflammation) to treat both acute and chronic laryngitis, which help to reduce swelling in the vocal cords and voice box.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following home remedies to ease the symptoms of both acute and chronic laryngitis:
In rare cases, vocal cord inflammation can cause respiratory distress. This situation requires immediate medical attention.
The best way to keep your vocal cords and voice box healthy is to keep them moist and free from irritants. You can avoid some irritants by doing the following:
In addition, try to avoid clearing your throat. This increases both mucus production and irritation.
Written by: Shannon Johnson and Tim Jewell
Published on: Oct 20, 2015
Medically reviewed on: Aug 16, 2017: Shuvani Sanyal, MD
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