Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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During an attack of laryngitis, the vocal cords are swollen and inflamed, resulting in hoarseness or loss of voice.

During an attack of laryngitis, the vocal cords are swollen and inflamed, resulting in hoarseness or loss of voice.

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx. The larynx lies in the upper part of the throat, between the pharynx and windpipe (trachea). A sheet of cartilage in the front of the larynx projects outward, forming the Adam's apple. Inside the larynx are sheets of fibrous tissue that form the vocal cords.

Sound is produced by the vibration of air passing over and through these cords. During a bout of laryngitis, the vocal cords and the mucous membranes lining the larynx are swollen and inflamed. The swelling disrupts the passage of air over the vocal cords, resulting in hoarseness and other symptoms.

What causes laryngitis?

Laryngitis usually develops during an upper respiratory infection, most often a cold or the flu. Viruses are responsible for these infections. Less commonly, the laryngitis may be due to a bacterial infection.

Thrush, an oral infection caused by the Candida species of


  • Hoarseness.
  • Pain when swallowing or speaking.
  • Loss of voice.

If laryngitis occurs in the presence of an infection, cold, or flu, additional symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Sneezing and stuffy or drippy nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Dry cough.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Headache.

fungus, sometimes produces laryngitis. Two other fungi, Histoplasma capsulatum and Blastomyces dermatitidis, cause an unusual form of chronic laryngitis, most often in people with weakened immune systems

In addition to infection, laryngitis may be caused by smoking, alcohol, excessive shouting, singing, or talking A tumor of the larynx or vocal cords can also produce chronic or progressive laryngitis.

How is laryngitis diagnosed and treated?

Laryngitis usually can be diagnosed on the basis of characteristic symptoms and an examination of the throat. If a bacterial or fungal infection is suspected, cultures may be ordered to identify the responsible organism. If a tumor is found, a biopsy is necessary.

Treatment depends upon the underlying cause. Laryngitis associated with a cold or other viral infections resolves itself as the underlying infection clears up. Antibiotics or antifungal drugs are prescribed to treat bacterial or fungal infections. Surgical removal of vocal cord polyps or other tumors may be necessary. Regardless of the cause, a person with laryngitis should refrain from speaking as much as possible to give the larynx an opportunity to heal.

What can I do myself?
Most laryngitis can be alleviated with common sense and basic self-care. If the laryngitis is due to a cold or the flu, rest as much as possible. Drink at least 8 glasses of fluids a day to help thin the mucus caused by the inflammation. Gargling with warm salt water hastens healing and alleviates a sore throat. Get plenty of rest and avoid talking. If you smoke, now is a good time to quit. At least stop smoking until you regain the use of your voice. Alcohol, which irritates the mucous membranes, should also be avoided until healing is complete.

When should I see my doctor?
See a doctor if hoarseness persists for more than a week. Go sooner if the laryngitis is accompanied by a fever, the production of greenish or odorous sputum, or difficulty in breathing.

What will the doctor do?
After examining the throat, the doctor may take culture samples. Laryngoscopy, an examination of the larynx with a viewing tube and special magnifying devices, will be ordered if a tumor is suspected. Tissue samples for a biopsy can be obtained during laryngoscopy. Depending upon the cause, antibiotics or other drugs may be prescribed.

The course of laryngitis

Most cases of simple laryngitis clear up within a week of removing the causative irritant and resting the voice. The hoarseness may persist longer if the laryngitis is due to a bacterial or fungal infection. Laryngitis associated with a tumor usually becomes progressively more pronounced, and sometimes results in permanent hoarseness or loss of voice.

If the inflammation spreads to the epiglottis (the flap of tissue at the top of the larynx that acts as a trapdoor to keep food and fluids from entering the windpipe), it can cause suffocation by blocking the flow of air to the lungs. This condition usually occurs in children who also have infected tonsils.

Is laryngitis dangerous?
Most laryngitis is not dangerous. However, difficult breathing that is associated with laryngitis requires immediate emergency treatment.

What can I do to avoid laryngitis?

  • Don't abuse your voice with excessive shouting, singing, or other overuse.
  • Refrain from smoking and excessive alcohol use.
  • Seek prompt treatment for respiratory infections.
This article was last reviewed December 1, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Infection, bacterial
Infection, viral
Tumor, vocal cords

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