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Definition Return to top
Laryngitis is swelling and irritation (inflammation) of the voice box (larynx) that is usually associated with hoarseness or loss of voice.
Causes Return to top
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, and may sometimes block the airway.
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.
Several forms of laryngitis occur in children that can lead to dangerous or fatal respiratory blockage. These forms include:
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical examination can determine whether hoarseness is caused by a respiratory tract infection.
Patients with lasting hoarseness (especially smokers) will need to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) for tests of the throat and upper airway.
Treatment Return to top
Because most common laryngitis is caused by a virus, antibiotics may not help. Your health care provider will make this decision.
Resting your voice helps by reducing inflammation of the vocal cords. A humidifier may soothe the scratchy feeling that comes with laryngitis. Decongestants and painkillers may relieve the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, if you have one.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Laryngitis that is not caused by a serious condition should get better.
Possible Complications Return to top
Rarely, severe respiratory distress may develop. This will require medical attention.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
Prevention Return to top
Stopping smoking may help prevent tumors of the head and neck or lungs, which may lead to hoarseness.
References Return to top
Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 4th ed. St Louis, Mo; Mosby; 2005.
Rakel P, ed. Conn’s Current Therapy 2007. 59th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007.Update Date: 10/10/2008 Updated by: Alan Lipkin, MD, Otolaryngologist, Private Practice, Denver, Colorado. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.