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:
- difficulty speaking
- sore throat
- mild fever
- irritating cough
- a constant need to clear your throat
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.
Laryngitis is often linked to another illness, such as a cold, flu, throat infection (pharyngitis) or tonsillitis, so you might also have other symptoms such as:
When to seek medical help
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.
Why it happens
In most cases, laryngitis is caused by either:
- a viral infection – such as a cold or flu, or
- damage to your larynx – usually by straining your voice
In these cases, most of the symptoms usually pass within a week. This is known as acute laryngitis.
Laryngitis can occasionally have other causes, such as smoking, alcohol misuse or an allergic reaction, and the symptoms can last much longer. This is known as chronic laryngitis.
Read more about the causes of laryngitis.
How laryngitis is treated
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.
Can laryngitis be prevented?
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:
- making sure you have the annual flu vaccine (if recommended by your GP)
- practising good personal hygiene – such as washing your hands before and after eating and after using the toilet
- avoiding close contact with people who have respiratory infections, such as a cold or flu – particularly if you're prone to laryngitis
- avoiding irritants, such as smoke or dust – particularly if you have a cold or other respiratory tract infection
- not smoking
- not drinking more than the recommended limits of alcohol consumption
- not regularly clearing your throat – as this can irritate the larynx (try swallowing instead)
- raising your head with pillows when you're sleeping – to protect your larynx from any acid reflux from your stomach during sleep
- not shouting or singing loudly or for long periods of time – it's important for people who regularly use their voice excessively to receive proper training so they don't damage their larynx