Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx (voice box) generally associated with hoarseness or loss of voice.
The voice box (larynx) is located at the top of the airway to the lungs, also called the trachea. The larynx contains the vocal cords. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness, and may sometimes block the airway.
The most common form of laryngitis is an infection caused by a virus. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection or a common cold, bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia.
Laryngitis often occurs with an upper respiratory infection and will go away by itself. Common laryngitis is not normally associated with any breathing difficulty.
Several forms of laryngitis occur in children and can lead to dangerous or fatal respiratory blockage. These include croup and epiglottitis.
Other causes of laryngitis include allergies and injury to the area.
- Recent or current upper respiratory infection
- Swollen lymph nodes or glands in the neck
Exams and Tests
Physical examination is usually all that is needed to find out if hoarseness is caused by a respiratory tract infection.
Patients, especially smokers, with lasting hoarseness will need to see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) for tests of the throat and upper airway.
Because most common laryngitis is caused by a virus, treatment with antibiotics may not help. Your health care provider will make this decision.
Voice rest helps by reducing the inflammation of the vocal cords. A humidifier may soothe the scratchy feeling that comes with laryngitis. Decongestants and pain killers may relieve symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, if present.
Full recovery is expected in laryngitis that is not caused by a serious condition.
Rarely, severe respiratory distress may develop, which will require medical attention.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if there is difficulty in breathing, swallowing, or if drooling is present in a small child who is not teething.
Call your health care provider if hoarseness is present in a child less than 3 months old.
Call your health care provider if hoarseness has lasted for more than 1 week in a child or 2 weeks in an adult.
Trying to avoid upper respiratory infections during cold and flu season may help. Hand washing, avoiding people with colds or flu, and avoiding crowded places may also help.
Stopping smoking may help prevent tumors of the head and neck, or lungs, which may lead to laryngitis.
Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. St Louis, Mo; Mosby; 2005.
Rakel P, ed. Conn's Current Therapy 2007. 59th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007.
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