What is laryngitis?

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The definition of laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx (the voice box that contains the vocal cords). In laryngitis the vocal cords that are responsible for sounds made by the voice become inflamed and possibly swollen, which results in a voice change that may sound hoarse, raspy, or low volume; so that others can hardly hear what you say. Laryngitis may be acute or chronic, although most cases are acute and not serious. There are both infectious and noninfectious causes of laryngitis.

Is laryngitis contagious?

The most common cause of laryngitis is a viral infection that lasts about one to two weeks. Other common causes of laryngitis are overuse of the larynx (singing, shouting, for example) or exposure to an irritant. However, other more serious conditions (for example, cancer of the throat) may infrequently cause laryngitis.

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The viruses that cause laryngitis are not very contagious. Most researchers suggest that the most contagious time frame for laryngitis is when the infected person has a fever. Less frequent causes of laryngitis that are potentially contagious are bacterial, and rarely, fungal infection.

Other causes of laryngitis that are not contagious are

  • mechanical overuse of the larynx (for example, strenuous singing or talking),
  • chemical irritants (pollutants), or
  • other underlying medical problems (throat cancer, for example) that cause laryngitis are not considered to be contagious.

Hoarseness Causes

The most common cause of hoarseness is inflammation of the vocal cords from a viral infection. Hoarseness also may be caused by

  • laryngitis
  • bacterial infections,
  • overuse of the voice (such as from yelling or singing),
  • inhaling irritants like cigarette smoke, etc.,
  • chronic sinusitis,
  • GERD (acid reflux),
  • tuberculosis (TB),
  • syphilis, and
  • cancer.

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How will I know I have laryngitis?

Besides hoarseness, other symptoms of laryngitis are voice changes such as a weak voice or loss of voice. Other symptoms of laryngitis include

  • a raw or irritated feeling in your throat,
  • sore throat,
  • throat seems to be dry,
  • a tickling sensation in the throat, or
  • dry cough.

A doctor can diagnose laryngitis by the patient’s history and physical exam. Chronic, severe or recurrent laryngitis may require that the larynx be visualized by a specialist who will likely use an endoscope to visualize the vocal cords. Infrequently, a biopsy of laryngeal tissue may be done.

How is laryngitis spread?

Contagious causes of laryngitis (mainly viruses, but potentially, bacteria and fungi) are usually spread from person to person; however, the spread or transfer of the bacteria, viruses, or fungi that cause laryngitis is not particularly effective. If laryngitis is contagious, coughing, sneezing, and saliva are the likely ways it is spread to others.

When will I know I’m cured of laryngitis?

Usually, a person with laryngitis (acute or chronic) is cured when their voice returns to normal. This usually occurs within two weeks in people with acute laryngitis. Chronic laryngitis may take much longer time for the voice to return to normal. If the vocal cords have been seriously damaged, the voice may never return to normal.

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When should I contact a health care professional about laryngitis?

Laryngitis caused mainly by viruses, vocal overuse or strain, usually goes away without the need to contact a health care professional. However, you should seek medical attention if you have any of the following:

Chronic laryngitis may indicate other underlying causes of laryngitis (extreme overuse, or cancer, for example) and anyone with chronic laryngitis should see a health care professional.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/26/2019

References

REFERENCE:

Shah, R. “Acute Laryngitis.” Medscape. Oct 19, 2018. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/864671-overview>.