Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Laryngitis facts
- What is laryngitis?
- What causes laryngitis?
- What are the symptoms of laryngitis?
- Symptoms of laryngitis in adults
- Symptoms of laryngitis in infants and children
- Is laryngitis contagious?
- How is laryngitis diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for laryngitis?
- Are there any home remedies for laryngitis?
- What are the complications of laryngitis?
- Find a local Ear, Nose, & Throat Doctor in your town
What is laryngitis?
The larynx is the voice box that allows us to speak, shout, whisper, and sing. The larynx consists of a cartilage skeleton that houses the vocal cords that are covered by a mucus lining. Muscles inside the larynx adjust the position, shape, and tension of the vocal cords, allowing us to make different sounds from whispering to singing. Any change in the air flow (which is generated by the lungs exhaling air) across the vocal cords will affect the voice and the quality of the sound.
The larynx is located at the junction of the mouth and trachea and has a flap-like covering called the epiglottis, whose job it is to prevent food and saliva from entering the larynx during swallowing.
Laryngitis (larynx + itis = inflammation) is an inflammation of the voice box, causing a person to lose their voice. The quality of the voice becomes hoarse or gravelly-sounding and sometimes too quiet or soft to hear. Because there is inflammation, throat pain is often an associated symptom.
What causes laryngitis?
- Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal cords. Most commonly, acute laryngitis is caused by an infection that inflames the vocal cords.
- Laryngitis may also be caused by voice overuse with excess talking, singing, or shouting.
- Chronic laryngitis, often described as lasting for more than three weeks may be caused by prolonged alcohol use, smoking, constant exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to polluted air, and excess coughing.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may cause reflux laryngitis and chronic cough, if acid and digestive juices from the stomach reflux up into the esophagus and back of the throat. Sometimes people are aware of the presence of the acid and experience waterbrash, a sour taste in their mouth. Repeat spills of acid onto the vocal cords will cause a chemical irritation and result in inflammation and swelling of the cords that hinders appropriate vibration and generation of sound.
- Chronic irritation of the vocal cords may also cause polyps or nodules to form on the vocal cords, which may affect the ability of the vocal cords to vibrate, which causes chronic hoarseness.
- Stroke may also cause vocal cord muscle paralysis and lead to a weak, hoarse voice and swallowing problems.
- Damage to the muscles or to the nerves that control them may lead to hoarseness. These nerves may be damaged if there has been trauma to the neck or if surgery has been performed and the nerves inadvertently irritated or severed.
- Tumors in the neck and chest may compress the nerves and cause them to function poorly.
- Thyroid inflammation and enlargement can also cause irritation of nerves that supply the vocal cord muscles.
- Not all individuals who have lost their voice have an infection. Not all hoarseness is due to a primary inflammation of the vocal cords.
- Diphtheria is rarely a cause of laryngitis-like symptoms because most people in the United States have been immunizxed and are protected against this infection. However, with primary immunization decreasing, and people failing to keep their immunizations up to date, there exists a potential for new outbreaks. Recent outbreaks of diphtheria have been documented in Russia and Thialand.
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