Health A to Z
Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (voice box). In most cases, it gets better without treatment in about a week.
Symptoms of laryngitis can begin suddenly and usually get worse over a period of two to three days. Common symptoms of laryngitis include:
The hoarse voice and speaking difficulties usually get worse each day you're ill and may last for up to a week after the other symptoms have gone.
In a few cases, the larynx can swell and cause breathing difficulties. This isn't common in adults but can occur in young children who have smaller, narrower windpipes.
As laryngitis often gets better quickly without treatment, you normally only need to see your GP if the symptoms are particularly severe or they last longer than two weeks.
You should seek immediate medical help if you or your child experience breathing difficulties.
If you see your GP, they'll discuss the possible causes with you and may refer you for tests or to a specialist in hospital.
Read more about diagnosing laryngitis.
In most cases, laryngitis is caused by either:
In these cases, most of the symptoms usually pass within a week. This is known as acute laryngitis.
Read more about the causes of laryngitis.
Most cases of laryngitis get better without treatment within a week. To help your vocal cords heal, it's important not to smoke, to avoid smoky environments, drink plenty of fluids (particularly water) and try to rest your voice as much as possible.
In some cases, it may be possible to treat the underlying cause of laryngitis. For example, if the symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction, you may be able avoid the substance you're allergic to, or take medication to help control your body's response to the substance.
Read more about treating laryngitis.
As laryngitis is often caused by a common viral infection, such as a cold or flu, it's not always possible to prevent it.
However, you can reduce your risk of developing the condition by:
Laryngitis occurs when the larynx (voice box) becomes irritated and swollen. It's usually caused by an infection or damage to the larynx.
Rarer types of infection include:
Laryngitis caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection is known as infectious laryngitis.
Laryngitis is also often caused by straining your voice, such as speaking or singing for long periods or shouting and singing loudly.
Straining your voice can cause your vocal cords to vibrate at a faster rate than they should. This excessive vibration can damage the surface of your vocal cords, causing them to become inflamed.
Laryngitis caused by damage to the larynx is known as mechanical laryngitis.
Less common causes of mechanical laryngitis include:
As well as infection and damage to the larynx, laryngitis can also be caused by:
These causes are most often associated with long-term (chronic) laryngitis.
Laryngitis often gets better without treatment, so you don't usually need to see your GP unless you have particularly severe or long-lasting symptoms.
If you see your GP with laryngitis, they'll discuss with you what could be causing the condition, including:
Your GP may refer you for blood tests and take a throat swab using a small cotton bud on a plastic shaft. This is to check for a possible viral, bacterial or fungal infection.
They may also examine your larynx using a mirror to look for redness or swelling.
If your GP thinks you need to see a specialist, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for some of the tests described below.
A laryngoscopy is a test that involves examining your larynx using a thin tube containing a camera and light source (endoscope), which can be passed into your throat through either your nose or mouth. This test allows your doctor to assess any damage to your larynx.
Laryngoscopies carried out through the nose are not painful, but it can be uncomfortable and the tube may trigger your gag reflex, which can make you feel like you want to be sick (it's highly unlikely that you actually will be sick). Local anaesthetic can be used to numb your nose and throat, which should help reduce these feelings.
If you're having persistent problems with your voice, you might be asked to talk or sing while your larynx is examined. This may help your doctor determine why you're having problems with your voice.
For laryngoscopies carried out through the mouth, general anaesthetic is used. This means you'll be asleep during the examination. You can often go home on the day you have this procedure, although an overnight stay in hospital is sometimes recommended.
Your ENT specialist may also want to make sure your symptoms aren't the result of laryngeal cancer.
Alcohol and tobacco are the two main things that can increase your risk of developing laryngeal cancer. The more you drink or smoke, the higher your risk of developing laryngeal cancer.
Laryngeal cancer is uncommon, but it's important to confirm it or rule it out quickly because the sooner laryngeal cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment will be.
Tests your ENT specialist may recommend to check for laryngeal cancer include:
Other tests that may also be carried out include:
In most cases, laryngitis gets better within a week without treatment. See your GP if your symptoms are severe or haven't improved after two weeks.
You may be able to help your recovery by:
In some cases, it's possible to treat the underlying cause of laryngitis. For example:
Vocal therapy is a type of speech and language therapy that involves studying how you use your voice and how this may contribute to your symptoms. You may be given information and advice about any changes you can make or voice exercises you can do to prevent further damage to your larynx.