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What causes laryngitis?

There are a number of different causes of acute and chronic laryngitis.

Causes of acute laryngitis

  • Acute laryngitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection that inflames the vocal cords. It also may be caused by voice overuse with excess talking, singing, or shouting.

Causes of chronic laryngitis

Laryngitis is considered chronic when symptoms last than three weeks, and it may be caused by:

  • Prolonged alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Constant exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to polluted air
  • Excess coughing
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may cause reflux laryngitis and chronic cough. 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. This reflux may cause a persistent cough.
  • Chronic irritation of the vocal cords also may cause polyps or nodules to form on the vocal cords, which may affect the ability of the vocal cords to vibrate causing chronic hoarseness.
  • Repetitive use of inhalers.

Hoarseness not caused by laryngitis

  • Stroke may 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.

Other causes of hoarseness and laryngitis

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 and pertussis may cause laryngitis-like symptoms, but because most people in the United States have been immunized, these are very uncommon causes. However, with primary immunization decreasing, and people failing to keep their immunizations up to date, there have been a few sporadic outbreaks reported.

Reviewed on 8/8/2017

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