When to See a Doctor for Laryngitis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Losing your voice because of laryngitis can be annoying, but it happens to most people at one time or another. Laryngitis is an inflammation of your larynx, commonly called your voice box. How long does laryngitis last? It depends on the type and the cause. Acute laryngitis, the most common type, lasts a few days to a couple of weeks, but chronic laryngitis lasts three weeks or longer. Here’s how to treat laryngitis at home and when to see a doctor.

Common Causes of Laryngitis

The most common cause of acute laryngitis is a viral infection, such as the common cold. Infections in your upper respiratory tract, such as bronchitis, can lead to laryngitis. Another cause is vocal strain, using your voice too loudly or too much, as you might at loud party or sports event.  

Chronic laryngitis is usually caused by:

  • Continual vocal strain, often affecting people who use their voices professionally

  • Inhaling allergens or chemical irritants, like cigarette smoke

  • Severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Polyps on the vocal cord

Laryngitis Treatment at Home

There are no cures or treatments for viral infections like a cold, and in most cases acute laryngitis goes away within a week or two on its own. However, there are some steps you can take at home that may reduce the length of time your larynx is inflamed and irritated, allowing your voice return to normal more quickly.

  • Rest your voice. Try not to speak. Whispering can be even more irritating to your vocal cords, so avoid whispering too.

  • Drink extra fluids to hydrate yourself.

  • Use a cough suppressant if you are coughing excessively.

  • Avoid dry air and use a humidifier so you are breathing in moist air. You can also breathe in moist air from hot showers.

  • Keep your throat moist by sucking on lozenges and gargling.

  • Avoid smoking, irritants or allergens that may irritate your throat.

When to See a Doctor for Laryngitis

Regardless of the cause or how long you have had laryngitis, seek emergency medical help immediately (call 911) if you have any trouble breathing. Call your doctor or visit an urgent care clinic if you have an increasingly sore throat or have trouble swallowing.

Although acute laryngitis symptoms generally go away after a week or two, if you are experiencing other symptoms or have chronic laryngitis, you may need treatment.

You should see your doctor if laryngitis lasts longer than two or three weeks (especially if you smoke) or if you seem to be getting worse instead of better, particularly if you have other symptoms, such as:

Although not common, chronic laryngitis could be caused by:

In these cases, the laryngitis is treated by treating the condition that caused it.

Who to See for Laryngitis

Your primary care physician can diagnose and treat laryngitis in most cases, particularly if it is caused by an infection or overuse of your vocal cords. However, you may be referred to otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist, or ENT) if you have chronic laryngitis or if your doctor believes your condition should be investigated further. ENT specialists can perform tests such as a laryngoscopy, which uses a thin, flexible camera to examine the larynx. Some ENT doctors called laryngologists specialize even further and are surgeons with a special focus on the larynx.

People with chronic laryngitis caused by another condition or illness may be referred to other specialists.

If you believe you should see an ENT specialist, check to see if your insurance company requires a referral from your primary doctor for the visit to be covered.

If you develop laryngitis, it’s most often nothing to worry about—it’s more annoying than anything else. But it’s important to monitor your progress and if you are at all concerned that you are not getting better or you have other symptoms, see your doctor so you can rule out anything more serious.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 11
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