• Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    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.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    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.

Quick GuideSore Throat or Strep Throat? How to Tell the Difference

Sore Throat or Strep Throat? How to Tell the Difference

What causes laryngitis?

There are a number of different causes of acute and chronic laryngitis.

Causes of acute laryngitis

  • Acute laryngitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection that inflames the vocal cords. It also may be caused by voice overuse with excess talking, singing, or shouting.

Causes of chronic laryngitis

Laryngitis is considered chronic when symptoms last than three weeks, and it may be caused by:

  • Prolonged alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Constant exposure tosecondhand smoke
  • Exposure to polluted air
  • Excess coughing
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may cause reflux laryngitis and chronic cough. 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. This reflux may cause a persistent cough.
  • Chronic irritation of the vocal cords also may cause polyps or nodules to form on the vocal cords, which may affect the ability of the vocal cords to vibrate causing chronichoarseness.
  • Repetitive use of inhalers.

Hoarseness not caused by laryngitis

  • Stroke may cause vocal cord muscle paralysis and lead to a weak, hoarse voice, andswallowing problems.
  • 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.

Other causes of hoarseness and laryngitis

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 and pertussis may cause laryngitis-like symptoms, but because most people in the United States have been immunized, these are very uncommon causes. However, with primary immunization decreasing, and people failing to keep their immunizations up to date, there have been a few sporadic outbreaks reported.

Reviewed on 5/18/2016

Tintinalli JE, etal. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th edition McGraw hill Professional. 2010.



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