Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal cords. Most commonly, acute laryngitis is caused by an infection that inflames the vocal cords.
Laryngitis may also be caused by voice overuse with excess talking, singing, or shouting.
Chronic laryngitis, often described as lasting for more than three weeks may be caused by prolonged alcohol use, smoking, constant exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to polluted air, and excess coughing.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may cause reflux laryngitis and chronic cough, if acid and digestive juices from the stomach reflux up into the esophagus and back of the throat. Sometimes people are aware of the presence of the acid and experience waterbrash, a sour taste in their mouth. Repeat spills of acid onto the vocal cords will cause a chemical irritation and result in inflammation and swelling of the cords that hinders appropriate vibration and generation of sound.
Chronic irritation of the vocal cords may also cause polyps or nodules to form on the vocal cords, which may affect the ability of the vocal cords to vibrate, which causes chronic hoarseness.
Damage to the muscles or to the nerves that control them may lead to hoarseness. These nerves may be damaged if there has been trauma to the neck or if surgery has been performed and the nerves inadvertently irritated or severed.
Tumors in the neck and chest may compress the nerves and cause them to function poorly.
Thyroid inflammation and enlargement can also cause irritation of nerves that supply the vocal cord muscles.
Not all individuals who have lost their voice have an infection. Not all hoarseness is due to a primary inflammation of the vocal cords.
Diphtheria is rarely a cause of laryngitis-like symptoms because most people in the United States have been immunizxed and are protected against this infection. However, with primary immunization decreasing, and people failing to keep their immunizations up to date, there exists a potential for new outbreaks. Recent outbreaks of diphtheria have been documented in Russia and Thialand. Continue Reading
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.