Laryngitis is an inflammation of the voice box, or larynx, that causes your voice to become raspy or hoarse. The vocal cords are the elastic bands inside the larynx that produce your voice.

Laryngitis can be short-term or chronic. Most of the time, it comes on quickly and lasts no more than 2 weeks.

Laryngitis can be caused by:

  • Colds or flu. This is the most common cause of short-term laryngitis.
  • Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This type of laryngitis is also called reflux laryngitis.
  • Overuse of your voice, such as cheering at a sports event.
  • Irritation, such as from allergies or smoke.

Acid reflux is the most common cause of chronic laryngitis. Check with your doctor if your symptoms last more than 2 weeks, because chronic laryngitis may be caused by more severe problems such as nerve damage, sores, polyps, or hard and thick lumps (nodules) on your vocal cords.

Symptoms of laryngitis include:

  • Hoarseness – Your voice may sound raspy, be deeper than normal, or break now and then
  • You may lose your voice completely
  • A dry or sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Trouble swallowing

More severe symptoms may mean there is another problem. A child who has severe pain, drooling, and a hard time breathing may have epiglottitis, a serious condition that requires emergency care. Adults also get epiglottitis, but it is more common in children.

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist (otolaryngologist) if you have voice problems and hoarseness that do not have an obvious cause and that last longer than 2 weeks.

With most cases of laryngitis, home treatment is all that you need. Try to rest your voice, add moisture to the air in your home with a humidifier or vaporizer, and drink plenty of fluids. Don’t smoke, and stay away from other people’s smoke.

Chronic laryngitis may need additional treatment. If you keep getting laryngitis because of a problem with the way you talk or sing, you may need speech training. This can help you change habits that can cause laryngitis. It can also help your larynx heal. You may need surgery if your vocal cords have been damaged, such as by sores or polyps.