Speaking Up About Laryngitis

If the area around your voice box swells in your upper throat, you’re likely to have hoarseness or lose your voice altogether. This condition is called laryngitis, and most often it’s caused by a virus.

“I would say 90 to 95 percent of laryngitis is viral, which means no antibiotic is necessary,” says Laura Tully, MD, ENT specialist with Premier ENT Associates.

Symptoms that often accompany viral laryngitis include a runny nose or headache. Voice loss will typically resolve on its own within one to three weeks, but there are things you can do on your own to help speed up recovery. These include:

  • Rest your voice. Throat clearing, coughing and whispering all strain your voice box, so limit these. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water or tea with lemon soothe inflamed vocal cords and relieve dryness.
  • Get plenty of sleep. This helps your body fight off the virus.
  • Use non-mentholated cough drops to soothe your voice. Menthol can dry your vocal cords and hinder recovery.

If your voice hasn’t returned to normal in one to three weeks, see your health care provider. Your laryngitis may result from another cause that requires a different treatment approach.

Voice loss will typically resolve on its own within one to three weeks, but there are things you can do on your own to help speed up recovery.

What to Do if It’s Not a Virus

Laryngitis Causes Treatments small

Other possible causes of laryngitis: 

A fungal infection can occur from using a steroid inhaler for asthma or breathing problems. The steroid puts you at higher risk of a fungal infection. If you use an inhaler and your voice isn’t getting better, Dr. Tully says an evaluation with a scope may be helpful. “When we're able to look at the vocal cords,” she says, “we may see white plaques on the vocal cords that are consistent with a fungal infection. They respond very well to just an anti-fungal medication.”

A bacterial infection on the vocal cords is a rare condition that can make breathing difficult. You may have to go to the emergency room for treatment. Antibiotics typically will resolve the infection. 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause acids from your stomach to come back up into your throat and irritate your vocal cords. Taking medicines like antacids can prevent this from happening. 

Yelling or speaking loudly for long periods of time can injure the vocal cords. Avoid this strain on your voice. If you’re experiencing hoarseness from straining your voice in a loud environment, rest your voice and drink fluids.

Allergies may irritate the vocal cords and can be treated with a variety of over-the-counter medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about what may be best to relieve your symptoms.

Breathing in chemicals that irritate the throat can contribute to laryngitis. Avoid environments that expose you to these irritants. Drink fluids and rest your voice to ease the irritation. 

Dr. Tully notes other, more serious reasons for voice loss:

  • “If you use your voice suddenly and forcefully and go very hoarse, that would be concern for a vocal cord hemorrhage and should be evaluated right away. That is typically not associated with pain.” 
  • “There are malignant or cancerous processes that can happen to the voice box, especially in patients with a smoking history. Anyone who has trouble swallowing, unintentional weight loss, that sort of thing, needs to be evaluated sooner rather than later. Any smoker who has hoarseness that's lasting more than two to three weeks should be evaluated.”
Small Steps: Keep a Journal
Write down details about your symptoms and how well they do or don’t respond to particular meds.