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Laryngitis

Definition

Laryngitis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the voice box (larynx). The problem is most often associated with hoarseness or loss of voice.

Alternative Names

Hoarseness

Causes

The voice box (larynx) is located at the top of the airway to the lungs (trachea). The larynx contains the vocal cords. When the vocal cords become inflamed or infected, they swell. This can cause hoarseness. Sometimes the airway can get blocked.

The most common form of laryngitis is an infection caused by a virus. It may also be caused by:

Laryngitis often occurs with an upper respiratory infection, which is typically caused by a virus.

Several forms of laryngitis occur in children that can lead to dangerous or fatal respiratory blockage. These forms include:

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

A physical exam can find whether hoarseness is caused by a respiratory tract infection.

People with hoarseness that lasts more than a month (especially smokers) will need to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist). Tests of the throat and upper airway will be done.

Treatment

Common laryngitis is often caused by a virus, so antibiotics likely will not help. Your health care provider will make this decision.

Resting your voice helps to reduce inflammation of the vocal cords. A humidifier may soothe the scratchy feeling that comes with laryngitis. Decongestants and pain medicines may relieve the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Laryngitis that is not caused by a serious condition often gets better on its own.

Possible Complications

In rare cases, severe respiratory distress develops. This requires immediate medical attention.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

Prevention

To prevent getting laryngitis:

References

Allen CT, Merati AL. Acute and chronic laryngitis. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby ; 2015:chap 62.

Schwartz SR, Cohen SM, Dailey SH, et al. Clinical practice guideline: hoarseness (dysphonia). Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;141(3 Suppl 2):S1-S31. PMID: 19729111 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19729111.


Review Date: 12/7/2014
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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