DEFINITIVE GUIDE

Laryngitis symptoms and treatment

Laryngitis symptoms often get worse during the first 3 days but can usually be managed at home.

In most cases, laryngitis is a temporary condition that goes away by itself within 1 to 2 weeks.

Find out whether you have laryngitis and get the right treatment today.

Written by Dr Faiza Khalid and Mr Ram Moorthy. Reviewed by Dr Sufian Ali. Last reviewed on 01/03/2019. Next review date 01/03/2022.

Fast facts

What is laryngitis?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of your larynx (voice box) or vocal cords. Swelling distorts the sound produced when you talk, often causing a hoarse voice. Other symptoms may include complete voice loss, a sore throat, cough, or fever. Laryngitis can come on suddenly but usually clears up on its own in 1 to 2 weeks.

Is laryngitis contagious?

Laryngitis is only contagious if it’s caused by an infection. A person who has viral, bacterial or fungal laryngitis is more infectious when they have a fever. Laryngitis isn’t contagious if it’s caused by damage to the larynx (like prolonged coughing, a strained voice or acid reflux) or exposure to irritants (like allergies or smoking).

CHAPTER ONE

Laryngitis signs and symptoms

Laryngitis is usually caused by viral infections, similar to those that cause the common cold, flu, tonsillitis or pharyngitis. If you’ve got another illness you may have additional symptoms, often making it difficult to self-diagnose your condition.

Symptoms can come on suddenly. The most common sign of laryngitis is a hoarse or croaky voice. Many symptoms can be relieved with home remedies. We can help with:

What are the signs of laryngitis? And what does laryngitis feel like?

What are the symptoms of laryngitis?

Laryngitis symptoms can include a:

  • hoarse voice
  • weak or occasional lost voice
  • persistent dry cough
  • sore throat
  • dry throat

It’s worth noting that laryngitis is often linked to other illnesses like the common cold or flu. This means that you might also experience other symptoms to these such as a runny nose or high fever.

When do signs of laryngitis show?

Signs of laryngitis will often appear suddenly. You might notice this when your voice becomes suddenly hoarse or you start to experience a loss of voice. Pain in the throat might also indicate that you are suffering from laryngitis.

Can I work with laryngitis?

If you have a fever or upper respiratory conditions like a runny nose, you should take precautions as it is likely that you are contagious. When these symptoms pass, it’s likely that you’re not contagious anymore.

If you are working with laryngitis, make sure to look after your voice and only speak when it is absolutely necessary. When you do need to speak, use a ‘confidential voice’ rather than a whisper as this will cause less strain on your voice.

Possible laryngitis complications

Possible complications of laryngitis include:

  • Damage to your vocal cords. This can occur when people try to overcompensate for their difficulty by speaking loudly or whispering. It is recommended to instead adopt a ‘confidential voice’ to limit the stress on your vocal cords.
  • Voice loss.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Breathing problems and airway blockage (very rare).

What else could I have?

Pharyngitis (sore throat) can also affect the larynx, causing laryngitis and a hoarse voice. Similarly, a chest infection (chesty cough, wheezing, chest discomfort) can also cause laryngitis and a hoarse voice.

Suggested: Guide on chest infections.

Epiglottitis is a very uncommon but serious infection in children affecting the epiglottis (the flap at the base of the tongue which prevents food entering your windpipe) which becomes inflamed. This can cause a very severe sore throat and breathing difficulties, which can also cause a hoarse voice. If epiglottitis is suspected, see a GP or attend A&E immediately.

A similar infection called supraglottitis occurs in adults. Symptoms are similar to epiglottitis. If suspected, see your GP or visit A&E urgently.

It’s also worth noting that laryngitis is usually accompanied by symptoms of viral infections such as:

  • the common cold or flu
  • a chest infection
  • tonsillitis
CHAPTER TWO

Acute laryngitis or chronic laryngitis

More often than not, laryngitis will clear up on its own within 2 weeks without treatment from a GP. This is known as a case of acute laryngitis.

If your symptoms last for longer than 3 weeks it is termed chronic laryngitis and is not likely due to an infection. You should visit your GP if you suspect you have chronic laryngitis. We can help with:

What is the difference between acute and chronic laryngitis? And when should I see a doctor?

What is acute laryngitis?

Most cases of laryngitis are acute and do not last longer than a couple of weeks. Cases of acute laryngitis are often caused by a viral infection similar to those which cause the common cold or flu.

What is chronic laryngitis?

In some cases, laryngitis might last for an extended period of time (greater than 3 weeks). This is known as chronic laryngitis and is diagnosed when you have had laryngitis symptoms for longer than 3 weeks.

Is laryngitis contagious after a week?

In most cases, the viruses that cause laryngitis are not very contagious. People with laryngitis are at their most contagious when they have a fever. In cases when laryngitis is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, it can be more contagious.

Management of laryngitis

Treatment at home is usually recommended for people with acute laryngitis as most cases are mild and will clear up naturally on their own. Antibiotics are not usually effective for acute laryngitis but might be considered by your GP.

If you have chronic laryngitis, your GP might want to refer you to an ENT Surgeon to perform a laryngoscopy. This is when an ENT Surgeon examines your larynx (voice box). Your ENT Surgeon might also suggest that you undergo a biopsy if the examination is not conclusive. Management of chronic laryngitis usually involves voice therapy and treatment of the underlying causes. This is done in addition to at-home self-care.

When should you see a doctor?

It is best to address the symptoms of laryngitis sooner rather than later. Therefore, it is recommended to visit your GP if you have been experiencing laryngitis symptoms for two weeks or more.

Important

Seek urgent care if you experience difficulty breathing, you cough up blood or cannot swallow properly.

What happens at your appointment?

When you have an appointment with your GP about laryngitis, they will usually take a look at your throat. In some cases, your GP might want to look for the cause of your laryngitis by wiping a cotton bud around the back of your throat or arranging for you to have a blood test. If you find that laryngitis keeps coming back, your GP might want to refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. In cases where your laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection, your GP might prescribe you with antibiotics to help fight the infection.

CHAPTER THREE

Laryngitis treatment and medicine

Laryngitis is a common condition in the UK, with more than 4,000 cases of laryngitis and tracheitis reported per week. It can usually be treated using over the counter medications and self-care. In some cases, antibiotics might be required to help fight your infection.

What course of treatment is best for you depends on what type of laryngitis you have. For instance, acute laryngitis will usually go away on its own but chronic laryngitis might require antibiotics or surgery. We can help with:

How can I treat acute and chronic laryngitis? And what is the best treatment to take?

How to treat acute laryngitis?

More often than not, acute laryngitis does not require treatment from a GP and will simply pass on its own. To help speed up your recovery, here are some things you can try to help get rid of laryngitis:

  • Rest your voice.
  • Drink plenty of water. Keeping hydrated can help your body fight infection.
  • Humidify the air. Adding moisture to the air can help to reduce irritation.
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol.
  • Avoid caffeine.

How to treat chronic laryngitis?

Treatment for chronic laryngitis, that is laryngitis that has persisted for more than three weeks, is usually targeted at its underlying cause. If you have a case of chronic laryngitis, your GP might suggest the following in addition to the treatments listed for acute laryngitis:

  • Vocal hygiene advice is the mainstay of treatment to help improve voice and includes voice rest, ensuring that you are drinking enough water, minimising coffee, tea, and alcohol and minimising voice abuse (like excessive shouting or screaming)
  • Acid reflux is becoming increasingly recognised as a cause of chronic laryngitis. Treatment can include lifestyle and dietary changes as well as the use of medications including a Proton Pump Inhibitor.
  • Voice therapy. This includes doing voice exercises with a speech therapist to help you learn how to reduce the trauma to your larynx (voice box) when you speak.
  • Surgery. If an abnormality is seen by an ENT Surgeon there may be a need for surgery to biopsy or remove the abnormality to help improve the voice.

What to take for laryngitis?

Acute laryngitis is usually caused by a virus and will clear up over time without the need for medications. However, in some cases, laryngitis is caused by a bacterial infection for which a GP might prescribe antibiotics. As chronic laryngitis treatment usually aims to tackle the underlying condition which is causing your laryngitis, medications can vary.

Painkillers for laryngitis

To help deal with the pain, you might consider painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for laryngitis. These can be purchased without a prescription from your local pharmacy or convenience store. Painkillers can help you to alleviate some of the pain and discomfort of having laryngitis.

Best antibiotic for laryngitis

There is no single best antibiotic for laryngitis. In fact, antibiotics often won’t be helpful due to most cases of laryngitis being caused by a viral infection, not a bacterial one. It’s worth noting that the use of antibiotics in acute laryngitis has been shown to have no significant clinical benefit.

CHAPTER FOUR

Home remedies for laryngitis

Laryngitis can usually be treated at home without antibiotics from a GP. In most cases, it will pass naturally within two weeks.

To help make this time more comfortable and speed up your recovery, there are many home remedies and ways to treat laryngitis naturally. We can help with:

What are some natural remedies for laryngitis? And how can I rest my voice?

Home remedies for laryngitis

Often, laryngitis can be treated at home. The following laryngitis remedies can help you to recover from laryngitis naturally:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Note: avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol.
  • Moisten your throat. Sucking on a sugar-free sweet or chewing gum can help relieve the discomfort of a dry throat.
  • Rest your voice.
  • Avoid decongestants as they can dry out your throat. Check the label if you are taking cold and flu tablets as these often contain decongestants.
  • Drink warm drinks with honey. This is a great way of introducing more moisture into your body and can help to soothe your throat.

Voice rest for laryngitis

Try not to overuse your voice. Only talk when you need to and avoid singing with laryngitis.

  • Avoid the extremes of your vocal range. Try not to shout or whisper with laryngitis. Instead, opt for a ‘confidential voice’ as this will reduce stress on your voice.
  • Avoid cradling your phone. Talking on the phone while it is between your head and shoulder for long periods causes the muscles in your neck to tense, adding stress on your voice.
  • Avoid talking in a noisy environment. Talking above the noise level can add strain to your voice.
  • Consider having voice therapy. Learn how to use your voice in a healthy way with a referral to a speech-language therapist.
  • Practice breathing techniques. You can support your voice with deep breaths from the chest. Relying on your throat when speaking or singing can put a strain on your voice.

Laryngitis and stress

Laryngitis is linked with stress. Feeling stressed can affect the quality of your voice. This is because stress causes the muscles in your body to tighten, including those in your throat, neck, vocal cords and chest, which can worsen your voice quality.

What to eat for laryngitis?

When you have laryngitis, it is best to avoid eating spicy foods. As spicy foods tend to cause stomach acid to move into the esophagus and throat, this often results in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn.

CHAPTER FIVE

Laryngitis causes and prevention

Laryngitis occurs when your larynx (voice box) becomes swollen or inflamed. In most cases, this is an acute condition lasting less than two weeks but in some cases it can be a chronic condition lasting longer.

Laryngitis is most commonly caused by viral infections such as the common cold or flu. However, it also has a number of other potential causes. The best way to treat and prevent laryngitis depends on what the underlying cause is. We can help with:

What causes laryngitis? Can allergies cause laryngitis?

What causes acute laryngitis?

Laryngitis usually follows a viral infection such as the common cold or flu. Acute laryngitis can also be caused by putting too much stress on your voice by speaking for long durations, singing loudly or shouting excessively.

In very rare cases, laryngitis might also be caused by diphtheria, a highly contagious and potentially fatal condition. It’s worth noting that babies and children are routinely vaccinated against diphtheria in the UK and its prevalence is very low.

What causes chronic laryngitis?

Chronic laryngitis causes include:

  • Acid reflux. This is a condition where your stomach acid is brought back up to your throat.
  • Bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection. Bacterial laryngitis may last longer than three weeks if not treated and may require antibiotics.
  • Coughing excessively. A long-term cough might cause chronic laryngitis, due to trauma to the vocal cords each time you cough.
  • Chronic sinusitis.
  • Breathing in irritants such as allergens or toxic air.
  • Binge drinking or drinking alcohol heavily. This can result in a chemical irritation of the larynx (voice box).
  • Regularly overusing your voice. For instance, from working in a noisy environment, being a frequent singer or a speaker.
  • Smoking. Regularly breathing in cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke, can lead to chronic laryngitis.
  • Asthma inhalers. If you suffer from asthma and regularly use a steroid asthma inhaler, this can be a cause of chronic laryngitis. It is vital to gargle and rinse the mouth with water following use of a steroid inhaler.

What is viral laryngitis?

Viral laryngitis is caused by a viral infection, usually similar to those that cause the common cold or the flu. This is the most common cause of laryngitis. Laryngitis caused by a viral infection will usually clear up within two weeks.

What is reflux laryngitis?

Reflux laryngitis is a term given to laryngitis caused by acid reflux. It occurs when acid from your stomach or other chemicals from your stomach come up and irritate your larynx (voice box). This often occurs while you are sleeping.

Can hay fever cause laryngitis?

Seasonal allergies and laryngitis are related. If you suffer from hay fever, this can be a cause of laryngitis. This is due to allergens such as pollen irritating your larynx (voice box). Speak with your pharmacist about antihistamines that you can take to help manage your allergies.

Laryngitis prevention

There are many things which you can do to help prevent laryngitis, including:

  • Get vaccinated for the flu. Your GP might recommend a flu vaccine which could help with laryngitis prevention.
  • Stop smoking. Find out how you can kick the habit.
  • Practice good personal hygiene. Laryngitis is often caused by viral infections which can sometimes be prevented by washing your hands with warm, soapy water and disinfecting surfaces in the home.
  • Avoid irritants. Dust, allergens and pollution can lead to laryngitis.
  • Staying within the recommended alcohol guidelines. This means drinking less than 14 units of alcohol a week for men and women – the equivalent of 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.
  • Avoid clearing the throat regularly. This can irritate your larynx and cause laryngitis. Instead, try swallowing.
  • Sleep with more than one pillow to raise your head. This can help to prevent acid reflux causing laryngitis.
  • Avoid shouting or singing loudly for extended periods of time. If you need to regularly use your voice, you should receive proper training so you don’t cause damage to your larynx (voice box).
  • Avoid people who have respiratory infections. If you are prone to laryngitis, you might want to stay away from anyone who has infections such as the common cold or flu.

Laryngitis smoking

Smoking with laryngitis is not advised. If you regularly inhale cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke, your vocal cords can become irritated and your throat swollen. This can make you more susceptible to getting laryngitis.

Quitting smoking comes with many health benefits. You might find the following resources helpful if you would like to quit smoking:

  • Smokefree National Helpline. Dial 0300 123 1044 free of charge for expert advice on quitting smoking from the NHS. Note: this is available for residents in England only.
  • Smokefree 28 day programme. You can sign up to Smokefree for expert advice and tips on quitting smoking. This is sent to your email inbox for 28 days.
  • Local Stop Smoking Service. Check if free support is available in your local area to help you quit smoking.
  • Online chat. You can talk to an expert advisor from Smokefree online to help you kick the habit.

If you are struggling to quit smoking on your own, speak to your GP or pharmacist who will be able to offer you support.

CHAPTER SIX

What to do: laryngitis when pregnant

Getting laryngitis in pregnancy in any trimester can be worrying for mothers-to-be. Although laryngitis can be uncomfortable, it will usually pass on its own within one or two weeks and will not cause any harm to your baby.

It’s worth noting that not all treatment options for laryngitis will be appropriate for pregnant women. However, there are some things that pregnant women can do when they have laryngitis to make it easier to cope with. We can help with:

Is it dangerous to have laryngitis while pregnant? And what can I take?

How to treat laryngitis while pregnant

To help treat laryngitis when pregnant, you can do the following:

  • Rest your voice.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated can help your body fight laryngitis.
  • Humidify the air. You can help to reduce irritation by adding moisture to the air with a humidifier.
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol. Not only will this help with laryngitis, but this will also avoid causing harm to your baby.
  • Avoid caffeine.

Is it dangerous to have laryngitis while pregnant?

Laryngitis is not dangerous in pregnancy and in most cases, laryngitis will usually pass on its own within one or two weeks. It’s worth noting that some treatments for laryngitis can be dangerous to take while pregnant.

What can I take for laryngitis when pregnant?

To help manage the pain of laryngitis while pregnant, you can take paracetamol. Paracetamol is the only painkiller that is considered safe to use when pregnant by the NHS. However, it’s still recommended that you should take the minimum dose for the shortest time possible. If you’re feeling really unwell, speak to your GP before taking painkillers when pregnant.

When to see a GP about laryngitis when pregnant

If your symptoms have not improved after two weeks, you find it difficult or very painful to swallow or laryngitis keeps coming back, you should visit your GP. If you find you are feeling really unwell when pregnant, you should make an appointment to see your GP for advice.

How to prevent laryngitis when pregnant

If you are pregnant and worried about getting laryngitis, there are a number of things you can do to help prevent laryngitis:

  • Get vaccinated for the flu. If you are pregnant, you should get the flu jab as soon as possible to help protect you and your baby.
  • Quit smoking and alcohol. Not only does smoking and drinking alcohol increase your chances of laryngitis, but it can also cause harm to you and your baby.
  • Good personal hygiene. Often, laryngitis is caused by viral infections. These can sometimes be prevented by washing your hands with warm, soapy water and disinfecting surfaces in the home.
  • Avoid irritants. Laryngitis can be caused by dust, allergens and pollutants.
  • Try not to clear your throat. This can irritate your larynx and cause laryngitis. Try swallowing instead.
  • Raise your head with pillows when sleeping. This can help to prevent acid reflux causing laryngitis.
  • Try not to shout or sing loudly for long periods. If you need to regularly use your voice, you should receive proper training so you don’t cause damage to your larynx (voice box).
  • Avoid people who have respiratory infections. You might want to stay away from anyone who has infections such as the common cold or flu.
CHAPTER SEVEN

Get same day treatment with Medicspot

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Our private doctor service is only £39 and allows you to get the treatment you need at a time and place that suits you. Based within clinical consulting rooms, our innovative technology allows your doctor to examine you remotely. We can help with:

Where is my nearest clinic? And how can Medicspot help?

How can Medicspot help you?

Medicspot offers you a more convenient way to see a GP. Simply visit your local participating pharmacy, get connected with one of our expert private doctors and collect any prescriptions at the same pharmacy.

How it works

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Find your nearest clinic.

CHAPTER EIGHT

About the authors

Dr Faiza Khalid

Dr Faiza Khalid is a Medicspot GP with 14 years of experience. Born and raised in the Home Counties, she pursued her passion for medical sciences at the University of Leeds and proceeded to read her degree in Medicine at The Leicester-Warwick Medical School. She has a keen interest in medical education and lifestyle medicine.

Mr Ram Moorthy

Mr Ram Moorthy is a Consultant ENT Surgeon at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, based at Wexham Park Hospital. He undertakes a full general ENT practice for adults and children with an emphasis on salivary gland, thyroid and parathyroid surgery, and swallowing disorders. Ram’s long-standing interest in medical education led him to become a Clinical Tutor at Wexham Park Hospital, where he is responsible for all postgraduate medical training. He is also the Training Programme Director for ENT in the Oxford Region.

Notably, Ram is Deputy Chief of Service for Specialty Surgery at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust. He is Honorary Consultant Head & Neck Surgeon at Royal Berkshire Hospital, where he is a core member of the head and neck cancer team. Ram has also held a number of high profile positions at the British Medical Association including Chairman of the UK Junior Doctors Committee and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Science.

Dr Sufian Ali

Dr Sufian Ali is a Medicspot GP based in the West of Scotland, having attended Aberdeen Medical School and completed his GP training in Glasgow. He has enjoyed working in a number of specialties including paediatrics, psychiatry and emergency medicine; while also working in a variety of settings.

Disclaimer

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Medic Spot Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.