Laryngitis

Introduction

Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx (voice box). Symptoms of laryngitis include:

  • hoarseness,
  • loss of voice, and
  • sore throat.

The larynx

The larynx is a tube-like structure found at the entrance of the trachea (windpipe). The lump you can see at the front of your throat, commonly known as the Adam’s apple, is your larynx.

The larynx has three main functions:

  • It helps channel oxygen into your trachea when you breathe.
  • It acts like a valve, closing off the trachea when you swallow to prevent food or liquid entering your airways. 
  • It contains two membranes (the vocal cords) which vibrate as air passes through them, producing the sound of your voice.

Laryngitis causes these membranes to become inflamed. They cannot vibrate properly, which leads to the loss of voice associated with laryngitis.

Types of laryngitis

There are two main types of laryngitis:

  • Acute laryngitis, where symptoms do not last longer than three weeks.
  • Chronic laryngitis, where symptoms persist for longer than three weeks.

Acute laryngitis

Infection is the most common cause of acute laryngitis. This is usually a viral infection, such as the common cold.

Other causes of acute laryngitis include misusing or overusing your voice, for example by shouting or singing too loud. Many professional singers have episodes of acute laryngitis.

Chronic laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis can be caused by:

How common is laryngitis?

It is difficult to estimate how common acute laryngitis is because most people do not report their symptoms to their GP. However, acute laryngitis is thought to be the most common condition to affect the larynx.

Outlook

The outlook for acute laryngitis is excellent. Most people will make a full recovery within three weeks without developing complications.

The outlook for chronic laryngitis will depend on the underlying cause. If the condition is due to factors such as smoking or drinking alcohol, your symptoms should get better if you stop smoking or drinking.

In cases of GORD-associated chronic laryngitis, medication will probably be required to prevent acid from leaking up into the throat.

Last updated: 04 October 2011

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