What is Laryngitis?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the part of the throat called the larynx or voice box. The larynx is located right above the trachea, where the lungs and throat meet. On either side of the larynx are two folds of skin called the vocal cords, which tighten or loosen to form recognizable speech and sounds. If you've ever stretched a balloon's neck to make pitched squeaks, you can understand how these vocal cords work to create human speech.

Cigarette smoke can lead to laryngitis.
Cigarette smoke can lead to laryngitis.

Ordinarily, the vocal cords are coated with a thin, smooth layer of mucus to keep them lubricated. When the larynx becomes inflamed by a virus or bacterial infection, however, the cords swell up and the mucus may thin or dry out. The result is a hoarse or raspy voice, often accompanied by fever and a cough. Most cases of laryngitis are caused by viral infections, but some are caused by bacterium similar to streptococcus.

Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx.
Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx.

The standard treatment for this condition depends on the root cause. If the laryngitis is viral in nature, then doctors usually suggest complete vocal rest and analgesics for the accompanying fever symptoms. For the less common bacteria-based disorder, a round of antibiotics may also be prescribed. Short-term (acute) laryngitis is usually not a cause for alarm -- the vocal cords should be back to normal within a few weeks at most. Long-term (chronic)laryngitis, however, can be a symptom of much more serious conditions like throat cancer or nodules on the vocal cords.

Some doctors mind recommend that people suffering from laryngitis gargle with salt water.
Some doctors mind recommend that people suffering from laryngitis gargle with salt water.

Many people develop the condition as a result of vocal strain. Those who routinely use their voices as part of their occupations should use amplification equipment or receive voice training. Cheerleaders, coaches, singers and others whose livelihoods depend on their voices should be especially aware of strains on their throats. Professional singers often receive training in how to protect themselves from stress-induced laryngitis.

Throat lozenges can help relieve throat pain.
Throat lozenges can help relieve throat pain.

Other factors which may lead to laryngitis include first and secondhand cigarette smoke, environmental irritants and the over-consumption of caffeine. These substances tend to dry out the essential mucus coating over the vocal cords, leaving them vulnerable to inflammation. Sucking on a medicated lozenge or gargling with salt water may alleviate some of the pain, but alcohol-based mouthwashes may cause more dryness. The best solution is to avoid these irritants as much as possible to prevent a regular recurrence.

Cheerleaders depend on their voices and should be aware of strains on their throats.
Cheerleaders depend on their voices and should be aware of strains on their throats.
Laryngitis may be a symptom of throat cancer.
Laryngitis may be a symptom of throat cancer.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@anon6769 - I agree with anon71642. Though there are a bunch of different things that can cause laryngitis and viral infection is just one of them, viral and bacterial infections are among the most common causes of laryngitis.

In short, I wouldn't go kissing anyone, sharing water glasses and silverware, or sharing toothbrushes while you've got laryngitis, or there is a pretty big chance that the laryngitis is viral and you'll end up giving it to the other person.


One of my favorite home remedies for laryngitis is to gargle honey before bed. This really helps with strep throat and with even a regular old sore throat, too.

Honey is a natural antibacterial agent and antibiotic. Since many sore throat conditions, including laryngitis, are often caused by viral or bacterial infections, honey can help to kill the germs and to sterilize your throat.

It also leaves a nice soothing coating on the throat, including spots where the layers of mucus have dried out, and that prevents the itchy dry throat feeling for a little while.

If you swallow enough, of course, the honey layer will be rinsed away by saliva and swallowed, but usually it stays in my throat long enough for me to get to sleep without coughing from the itchiness and dryness.

I use this gargling honey method at the first hint of a sore throat. I do it for three nights in a row, and the soreness almost always goes away almost before it starts.


@TheGraham - "Losing your voice style full on acute laryngitis" is actually not laryngitis at all. The condition of being unable to use your voice is actually called dysphonia, and laryngitis just happens to be one of the most common causes of it.

People say "I've got laryngitis" to explain that they can't speak, but they technically have dysphonia, a loss of the voice. Dysphonia can also be used to refer to difficulty speaking, such as a hoarse voice, or a rough tone due to having a cold. Yes, before you ask, dysphonia is the technical term for "having a frog in your throat", too.

Laryngitis, on the other hand, is simply an inflammation of the vocal cords which may or may not involve throat dryness as well.

Laryngitis doesn't always make you get dysphonia and lose the ability to speak, although it can, and dysphonia can be caused by a bunch of other things besides laryngitis. It's one of those commonly misused words that has become mainstream enough that "laryngitis" is now synonymous with "lost my voice".

Isn't it funny how our language evolves as people use and misuse and misunderstand different various words?


According to the article, singers and other professionals who use their voice a lot can get something called stress-induced laryngitis.

Since using your voice a lot without exposing your vocal cords to any particular substance -- like cigarette smoke -- doesn't seem like it would dry the mucus layers on the larynx out, does that mean that stress-induced laryngitis is a kind with just vocal cord swelling rather than swelling and dryness?

I can't think of a good reason why over use of the vocal cords would cause them to dry out.

The viral kind of laryngitis that you get from being sick, on the other hand, that definitely involves vocal cord dryness. Is it possible to get laryngitis that involves the mucus layers drying but doesn't involve any swelling?


Huh...I had no idea that consuming too much caffeine was on the list of laryngitis causes. I drink coffee and energy drinks every day, and my throat always feels really dry -- think there could be a connection?

I have never actually had laryngitis, like losing your voice style full on acute laryngitis, from anything other than a few really bad colds. Does that mean I'm not consuming too much caffeine, or is the dry throat a sign that I'm on the verge of consuming enough that I should cut down to avoid laryngitis?

I really love my energy drinks and coffee, so if I don't have to cut back I don't really want to. Is there anything you can do to counteract the effects of caffeine that dry out the throat, like maybe drink water in between caffeinated drinks or something? I could live with that.


The resulting dryness isn't contagious. The root cause of the laryngitis however, could very well be. Viral = virus. Viruses are transmissible.


Is laryngitis contagious?

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