Some of us will know the familiar symptoms of a sore throat, croaky voice and raspy speech. But not many of us know what it is caused by, and what natural therapies can help ease this annoying ailment.

What is it?

Laryngitis is an inflammation of your voice box (larynx) due to overuse, irritation or infection. The larynx is a framework of cartilage, muscles and mucous membranes that forms the entrance of your windpipe (trachea). Inside the larynx are your vocal cords — two folds of mucous membrane covering muscle and cartilage.

Normally your vocal cords open and close smoothly, forming sounds through their movement and vibration. But in laryngitis, your vocal cords become inflamed or irritated. They swell, causing distortion of the sounds produced by air passing over them. As a result, your voice sounds hoarse. In some cases of laryngitis, your voice can become so faint as to be undetectable.

Laryngitis may be short-lived (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Although acute laryngitis usually is nothing more than an irritation and inflammation from a virus, persistent hoarseness can signal a more serious problem.

What causes it?

Usually a viral infection causes acute laryngitis. A bacterial infection such as diphtheria also may be the cause, but this is rare. Acute laryngitis may also occur during the course of or after another illness, such as a cold, flu or pneumonia.

Common causes of chronic laryngitis include constant irritation from excessive alcohol, heavy smoking or reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus and throat, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In adults, other causes of chronic hoarseness may include:

  • Sores (contact ulcers) on the vocal cords.
  • Growths (polyps or nodules) on the vocal cords.
  • Loosening of vocal cords due to aging.
  • Vocal cord paralysis, which can result from injury, stroke or a lung tumour.

What are the symptoms?

Laryngitis often makes you feel the need to constantly clear your throat. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Hoarseness.
  • Weak voice.
  • Tickling sensation and rawness of your throat.
  • Sore throat.
  • Dry throat.
  • Dry cough.

Are there any natural therapies?

Treatment depends on the cause of the laryngitis. The best treatment for the most common cause, a virus, is to rest your voice as much as possible and avoid clearing your throat. If an inhaled irritant is to blame, avoid the irritant. It may also help to inhale steam from a bowl of hot water or warm shower.

If you smoke, stop. In addition, if you're a smoker and develop persistent hoarseness, see your doctor and get a thorough examination of your vocal cords to be sure cancer isn't present. Detected early, cancer of the larynx generally can be successfully treated with surgery or radiation.

If alcohol consumption is responsible for your laryngitis, stop drinking. If you can't voluntarily give up alcohol, get treatment to help.

What else can I do?

  • Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine to prevent a dry throat.
  • Avoid clearing you throat – this does more harm than good.

Did you know?

When you have largyngitis, avoid whispering. This puts even more strain on your voice that normal speech.