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 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.

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 tumor.

What are the symptoms?

  • 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.

No medication is necessary if your laryngitis is caused by simple overuse; in that case, the best solution is to rest your voice.

  • Implement the use of Vitamin C to boost your body's immunity.
  • If an infection is present, consider also supplementing your diet with vitamins A and E, the herb echinacea, and the minerals zinc and selenium.
  • Herbal lozenges are soothing to the inflamed throat.

What else can I do?

To prevent dryness or irritation to your vocal cords:

  • Don't smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine to prevent a dry throat.
  • Avoid clearing your throat.

Did you know?

The primary sign of laryngitis is hoarseness. Changes in your voice can vary with the degree of infection or irritation, ranging from mild hoarseness to almost total loss of your voice.