Laryngitis

Laryngitis is when your voice box (larynx) or vocal cords in your throat become swollen and irritated. It usually goes away by itself within a week or so.

Key points about laryngitis

  1. In laryngitis, your larynx becomes inflamed due to overuse, irritation or infection.
  2. Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long lasting (chronic).
  3. Most laryngitis is triggered by a temporary viral infection or straining your voice and isn't serious.
  4. Persistent hoarseness can sometimes signal a more serious underlying medical condition.
  5. You can manage most acute cases of laryngitis with self-care, such as resting your voice and drinking plenty of fluids.

What causes laryngitis?

Most cases of laryngitis are short-lived and improve when the underlying cause gets better. Causes of acute laryngitis include:

  • viral infection, such as a cold or flu
  • vocal strain, caused by overuse or yelling
  • bacterial infection, although this is less common.

Laryngitis that lasts longer than 3 weeks is known as chronic laryngitis. It is generally caused by irritation over a long time, eg, from:

  • exposure to irritating substances, such as cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol intake, stomach acid or workplace chemicals
  • overusing your voice, by speaking too much, speaking too loudly, shouting or singing.

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

Laryngitis usually comes on suddenly and gets worse during the first 3 days. The main symptoms are:

  • hoarse or croaky voice
  • weak voice or voice loss
  • sore or raw feeling throat
  • dry and irritating cough.

Laryngitis is often linked to other illnesses such as colds and flu, so you may also have symptoms related to these. 

How is laryngitis treated?

Laryngitis normally goes away by itself within a week or so. You do not usually need to see your GP. You can manage most acute cases of laryngitis at home with self-care.

Self-care for laryngitis 

  • Try to speak as little as possible.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Keep the air moist by putting out bowls of water or using a humidifier – central heating and air conditioning make the air dry.
  • Gargle with warm salty water.
  • Avoid smoking and smoky, dusty places.

Medicines for laryngitis

  • Use paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.
  • Try cough syrup to help with your cough.
  • Use medicated lozenges for the pain.

Many cough syrups and medicated lozenges are not suitable for children. Talk to your pharmacist about products you can give your child.

See a GP if:

  • your symptoms don't improve after 2 weeks
  • it's very painful or difficult to swallow
  • you keep getting laryngitis or voice problems.

Get an urgent GP appointment if your child has difficulty breathing.

How can laryngitis be prevented?

  • Avoid getting coughs and colds. Wash your hands often and avoid contact with people who have upper respiratory infections such as colds or flu.
  • Don't smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Smoke dries your throat and irritates your vocal cords.
  • Drink plenty of water. Fluids help keep the mucus in your throat thin and easy to clear.
  • Avoid clearing your throat. This causes an abnormal vibration of your vocal cords and can increase swelling. It also causes your throat to secrete more mucus and feel more irritated, making you want to clear your throat again.
  • Avoid overusing your voice. Overuse of your voice can cause inflammation of your larynx. Serious damage to your vocal cords can result from strenuous voice use during an episode of acute laryngitis.

Learn more

Larynx Better Health, Australia
Laryngitis NHS, UK
Laryngitis Patient Info, UK 

Reviewed by

Dr Helen Kenealy is a geriatrician and general physician working at Counties Manukau DHB. She has a broad range of interests and has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation, orthgeriatrics and community geriatrics.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Helen Kenealy, geriatrician and general physician, Counties Manukau DHB Last reviewed: 11 Jan 2021