You open your mouth to talk, and all that comes out is a whisper or squeak. You’ve got laryngitis. And you may wonder: How did this happen?
Swelling in the voice box, also known as the larynx, causes laryngitis. This organ is in your upper neck just beyond the back of your throat. An infection, such as a cold, the flu, or bronchitis, may spur the swelling. Or the problem could be something as simple as overuse.
The vocal cords, two folds of tissue within your larynx, become inflamed. Sound from the area is muffled, and you are hoarse.
Laryngitis usually isn’t a big deal. With proper treatment, it should go away in no more than 3 weeks. But you have ways to stop it from happening or make it go away faster.
Laryngitis is often related to another illness, such as cold, flu, or bronchitis. Symptoms include:
You have a greater chance of getting it if you smoke, overuse your voice a lot (if you are a singer or public speaker, for example), or are prone to colds, the flu, and bronchitis.
Though it’s usually virus-related, there are also ongoing, or chronic, forms of the illness, generally brought on by smoking and alcohol abuse.
Acid reflux can also play a role. Strong acids can travel up from the stomach into your throat and get all the way to your larynx. This can irritate it and make you lose your voice.
Other causes of chronic cases include:
The best treatment is to rest your voice. Without the stress of everyday use, it will often recover on its own. If your need to speak clearly is urgent, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroids. This is a class of man-made drugs that mimic hormones, such as cortisol, that your body makes naturally. They reduce swelling.
You can try a number of home remedies to aid in your healing:
Stay away from decongestants. They dry you out when your throat wants moisture.
Certain herbs — such as licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm — have reputations as throat pain relievers, but they interact with some medications. Talk to your doctor before taking them.
Laryngitis in adults is not serious, but you should see a doctor if you’ve been hoarse for more than 2 weeks, are coughing up blood, have a temperature above 103 F, or are having trouble breathing.
However, it can be very serious in children. Watch for fever and call a doctor if:
In kids, it may lead to croup, a narrowing of the airways, or epiglottitis, an inflammation of the flap at the top of the larynx. This condition can be life-threatening, so get emergency treatment if you or a child in your care has had laryngitis and starts gasping or having any trouble breathing.