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Laryngitis: causes and symptoms

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 221 views

Laryngitis Also called: laryngeal inflammation is when the lining of the larynx and vocal cords become inflamed. This often happens with a respiratory infection – such as a cold – or when the larynx is severely irritated. The main symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness. If it lasts for several weeks, it becomes chronic. Read here how to get laryngitis, how to recognize it and how to treat it.

ICD codes for this disease: J05 | J38 | J04 | J06 | J37

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.

quick overview

  • Symptoms: hoarseness , voicelessness, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, foreign body sensation in the throat, frequent clearing of the throat
  • Risk factors: allergies, chronic heartburn (reflux), deviated nasal septum, strained vocal cords, irritants in the air we breathe, sinusitis
  • Causes: viral or bacterial infection , silent reflux
  • Treatment: protecting the voice, abstaining from spicy or hot food, smoking, alcohol, inhalation; Antibiotics only for bacterial infection, symptom relief
  • Diagnosis: Based on typical symptoms, using a larynx mirror (laryngoscope) by the ear, nose and throat doctor, laboratory determination of the pathogens
  • Prognosis: Acute form usually heals quickly on its own, chronic form often recurs, possibly changes in the mucous membranes (polyps, increase or depletion of the mucous glands)
  • Prevention: no reliable prevention possible, general strengthening of the immune system, protect the voice

What is laryngitis?

In an inflammation of the larynx, also known medically as laryngitis, the mucous membranes of the larynx and the vocal cords are inflamed. It is often the result of a respiratory infection caused by viruses or bacteria. If you put too much strain on your voice by talking loudly or a lot, you are more likely to develop laryngitis.

Laryngitis: what are the symptoms?

The main symptom of laryngitis is hoarseness: the voice is less resilient, sounds raspy (dysphonia) or falls out completely so that only a whisper is possible (aphonia). the larynx with vocal folds and vocal cords is responsible for producing sounds for speaking, singing and screaming. If it is swollen or occupied, the voice changes. In addition, there are other laryngitis symptoms that are independent of the voice.

The following symptoms are characteristic of laryngitis:

  • hoarseness
  • Voice change (dysphonia)
  • Sore throat
  • difficulties swallowing
  • cough
  • frequent throat clearing
  • Foreign body sensation (“lump in throat”)
  • possibly fever (acute laryngitis)

Symptoms of laryngitis are similar in women and men.

Is laryngitis contagious?

If viral and/or bacterial infection is the cause of laryngitis, those affected are potentially contagious to other people. Viruses that cause it, such as influenza viruses, spread by adhering to tiny liquid droplets that are expelled when speaking or coughing and then breathed in again by other people.

Anyone who is infected does not necessarily get laryngitis, but falls ill – to stay with the example of influenza viruses – from flu that does not spread to the larynx. How severe and how long laryngitis is contagious varies depending on the pathogen.

It is therefore advisable to stay at home even if you have laryngitis to protect others from contamination.

Causes and risk factors

There are various causes of laryngitis:

viruses and bacteria

The reason is usually an infestation of the respiratory tract with viruses. Possible pathogens are, for example, parainfluenza and influenza viruses (flu viruses), rhinoviruses (cold viruses) and adenoviruses. Bacteria sometimes also settle on the attacked mucous membranes, especially streptococci.

There are also several risk factors that favor the development of laryngitis:

Heavily stressed vocal cords

People, such as singers or teachers, who use their voice frequently and heavily are more likely to get laryngitis. The vocal apparatus is then irritated and overwhelmed.

Irritant breathing air

People who breathe dry air, dust, chemical fumes, or irritating pollutants such as cigarette smoke very often also develop laryngitis quickly.

allergies or sinus infections

Laryngitis is also a possible consequence of other diseases: For example, if you have a chronically blocked nose due to allergies , you almost only breathe through your mouth and thus promote inflammation of the throat and larynx. This also applies to chronic sinusitis.

Deviated nasal septum

A bent nasal septum also makes breathing difficult and therefore also promotes laryngitis.

Chronic heartburn (reflux disease)

In people with reflux disease , gastric juice repeatedly gets into the esophagus . This also often causes the larynx to become inflamed or so irritated that laryngitis develops. The doctor speaks of laryngitis gastrica in the case of laryngitis caused by reflux. This form of reflux often goes unnoticed because no heartburn occurs and is therefore also called silent reflux.

Doctors differentiate between two forms of laryngitis depending on the duration:

Acute laryngitis

Acute laryngitis is usually caused by an infection with viruses or bacteria. Those affected usually feel ill for a few days, have a sore throat, cough and, above all, are hoarse – sometimes their voice no longer works at all. Acute laryngitis usually heals without consequences.

Chronic laryngitis

Chronic laryngitis lasts longer than three weeks. It usually develops from unhealed acute laryngitis, but also when the area of ​​the larynx and vocal cords is put under prolonged strain. Sometimes other disorders (such as gastric reflux disease) cause chronic laryngitis.

In addition to normal laryngitis, two other special forms are possible, which play a role especially in children and infants:

Pseudo-Krupp (Krupp Syndrome)

Krupp syndrome is another name for acute stenosing laryngotracheitis. To distinguish it from the “real” Krupp disease, doctors often refer to it as pseudo-Krupp. This disease occurs primarily in small children between the ages of six months and three years.

Krupp syndrome is characterized by a hoarse voice, a barking cough and pathological noises when breathing in (inspiratory stridor ). In addition to the laryngitis, the mucous membrane in the area of ​​the larynx and trachea is so swollen in the affected children that the airways are narrowed and the throat feels constricted. Severe swelling often leads to shortness of breath in the affected child.


Another disease that is now rare is what is known as epiglottitis . It mostly affects children between the ages of two and six years. This is a special form of laryngitis in which the epiglottis , which sits at the “entrance” of the larynx, becomes inflamed.

Epiglottitis causes the epiglottis and larynx to swell. The child has a high fever, severe difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath and speaks “dumbly”. Epiglottitis is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention!

Laryngitis: Treatment

If the laryngitis is caused by a viral infection, only the symptoms can be alleviated. Antibiotics don’t help.

What drugs help with laryngitis?

Only if bacteria are also involved in the laryngitis does the doctor prescribe an antibiotic that specifically combats the pathogens. Which antibiotic he chooses depends on the type of bacteria.

In the case of chronic laryngitis due to chronic reflux (laryngitis gastrica), the doctor may prescribe medication that reduces the formation of gastric acid.

Other medications only relieve the symptoms, such as pain-relieving lozenges.

There are also a number of homeopathic remedies for laryngitis such as globules or Schuessler salts, but their effects have not been scientifically proven.

Take it easy on your neck!

In addition, it only helps to rest your throat and give the larynx mucosa a rest so that it swells up. The following measures support the body:

  • Despite the difficulty in swallowing, try to drink as much as possible – especially water and lukewarm herbal teas.
  • Coffee, alcohol and acidic juices should be avoided.
  • Conserve your voice by using it as little as possible.
  • If possible, refrain from smoking.
  • Avoid dusty and dry air.
  • Avoid hot and spicy foods and alcohol.

Home remedies for laryngitis

Some patients use home remedies to treat laryngitis. Inhaling hot steam and saline solutions to moisten the airways is often described as helpful. You can add eucalyptus oil or chamomile to the water. Potato wraps and quark wraps are also classic home remedies for laryngitis.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

Chronic laryngitis: Treatment often lengthy

Chronic laryngitis is often less easy to treat than acute one. Then it is very important that you protect your voice and irritate the respiratory tract as little as possible. If you smoke, it is advisable to take a break or quit altogether. The doctor may prescribe a cortisone preparation. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and allows the swelling to subside better.

Sometimes chronic laryngitis is related to a problem with voice production. In such cases, it is usually helpful to see a speech therapist. If another condition is behind the laryngitis, such as chronic sinus infections or reflux disease, it is important to treat the root cause.

investigations and diagnosis

Most people with acute laryngitis go to the doctor because of typical cold symptoms. He first performs a general physical exam and looks down the patient’s throat to check if the throat is red or the tonsils are swollen.

If laryngitis is suspected, the doctor will ask about symptoms such as a sore throat, cough and hoarseness. He may then refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor.

Laryngeal examination with a laryngoscope

If the patient is noticeably hoarse or complains of pain in the larynx area, the ENT doctor looks specifically at the larynx for diagnosis. To do this, he uses what is known as a laryngoscope. This is a small handheld device used to view the larynx. The doctor uses a mirror to examine the larynx and vocal cords. In children or adults with a pronounced gag reflex, the doctor uses a flexible, tube-like laryngoscope, which he inserts through the nose.

In the case of laryngitis, the laryngoscope shows a reddened and thickened laryngeal mucosa. The vocal cords are also usually red and swollen. In the case of acute laryngitis, they are also often covered with viscous mucus and whitish or purulent deposits. The doctor may take a swab of the inflamed tissue. On the basis of this he determines the exact pathogen.

Laryngoscopy is also used to rule out other diseases, such as tuberculosis or a tumor in the larynx. This is particularly important for smokers. In cases of doubt, the doctor takes a tissue sample of the larynx mucosa ( biopsy ) in order to have it examined in the laboratory for cell changes.

Laryngitis: course of the disease and prognosis

Acute laryngitis is usually uncomplicated, does not last long and heals within a few days without further consequences. However, if you don’t take it easy enough, talk a lot or smoke during this time, you risk transitioning into a chronic form.

In many cases, chronic laryngitis also completely regresses if it is recognized and treated in good time. However, relapses are relatively common. If the chronic inflammation of the larynx persists over a longer period of time, it is possible that the larynx mucosa will change permanently.

Sometimes mucosal growths (polyps) form. In some cases, an excessive number of mucous glands develop (hyperplastic laryngitis) or some or all of the mucous glands stop working (laryngitis sicca).

With a pathologically changed and thickened laryngeal mucosa, the risk of laryngeal cancer also increases .

How to prevent laryngitis?

There is no specific prevention for laryngitis. However, since colds are often the trigger for acute laryngitis, it is important to prevent infection through careful hygiene. Here it is particularly advisable to wash your hands regularly – after traveling by bus or train, before eating, after returning to your own home or after you have shaken hands with people or hugged them. Clothing appropriate for the weather and temperature is also helpful.

Regular exercise and a healthy, balanced diet also have a positive effect, as they strengthen the immune system against attacks by pathogens. They are good prevention against getting sick.

If you want to reduce the risk of chronic laryngitis, you should avoid risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, dry air or irritating vapors if possible. People who have to put a lot of strain on their voice for their job (lecturers, teachers, singers) can also relieve the strain on the larynx with the right vocal technique and thus contribute to prevention. A speech therapist will help you learn the right voice technique.

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