What is laryngitis?

The larynx joins the back of the throat to the trachea (windpipe). Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx, usually due to a virus or overuse. The result is acute change in the voice. Viral laryngitis is self-limited. Other infectious or irritating causes may require specific treatment.

Why does the voice become hoarse, and can it get severe?

The voice becomes hoarse because the vocal cords are thickened by inflammation and the areas around the cords also become thickened. Yes, when people try to talk when they have laryngitis it can lead to permanent damage to the vocal cords and long-standing hoarseness of voice.

What are the symptoms of viral laryngitis?

You may feel sore over the ‘Adams-apple’ and become hoarse shortly afterwards. You may also have a mild fever, and a cough. Breathing difficulty is an uncommon complication. This may occur if there is a lot of inflammation and swelling in the larynx which causes the windpipe to narrow. This is rare in adults, but sometimes happens in young children with smaller, narrower windpipes.

Do I need an antibiotic?

Usually not. Laryngitis is usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, they only kill bacteria. Your immune system usually clears virus infections quickly.

A more severe laryngitis is sometimes due to bacteria. An antibiotic may be advised if the infection is severe, if it is not easing after a few days, or if your immune system is not working properly (for example, if you have had your spleen removed or if you are taking chemotherapy, etc).

Other causes of laryngitis and hoarseness

Laryngitis and hoarseness are occasionally due to other conditions that affect the vocal cords. For example: rare infections, allergies, voice overuse, tobacco smoke, or other irritants or chemicals that you may inhale. A benign (non-cancerous) cyst on a vocal cord sometimes causes hoarseness. A tumor (cancer) on the vocal cord is an uncommon cause. See a doctor if any of the following develop.

  • Symptoms that are severe, or are different to those described above.
  • Any flu-like symptoms which do not ease within 3-4 days.
  • If hoarseness or soreness in the larynx persist more than 2-3 weeks. Particularly if you had no initial infection to account for the hoarseness.
  • If swollen neck glands do not go within 2-3 weeks after an infection.
  • If swollen glands appear in the neck without symptoms of infection.
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