Published: Jan. 20, 2010
Updated: Aug. 4, 2011
Laryngitis is a broad term that describes hoarseness of the voice and indicates inflammation within the larynx.
The term describes a symptom, but does not hint at the source of this voice change. For example, laryngitis can be present during an upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold, a sinus infection, or from phonotrauma (misuse of the voice).
Some people are more susceptible to laryngitis during illnesses and typically find that their voice improves as the illness resolves. If your laryngitis persists for more than two weeks, you should seek an evaluation by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Acute laryngitis is the most common cause of hoarseness and sudden voice loss.
Acute laryngitis is usually caused by a viral infection that leads to swelling of the vocal folds. Swelling on the vocal folds changes the way they vibrate, and we hear this change as hoarseness.
The best treatment for acute laryngitis is to stay well-hydrated and to rest your voice or limit your voice use. If you make heavy use of your voice when you have acute laryngitis, you are risking serious injury to the vocal folds.
Since most cases of acute laryngitis are caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective.
Bacterial infections of the larynx are much rarer and are often associated with difficulty breathing. Of course, any breathing problems during an illness require emergency medical attention.
Chronic laryngitis is a general term for inflammation of the vocal folds. Chronic laryngitis can be caused by acid reflux disease, exposure to irritating substances such as smoke, chronic misuse of the voice, and low-grade infection, such as a yeast infection of the vocal folds.
People using inhalers for asthma, as well as chemotherapy patients or others with suppressed immune systems, are susceptible to these infections.
If you experience laryngitis frequently during periods of relatively good health, you should be evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat specialist to determine the source of the persistent problem and ways to avoid future voice loss.