Common Causes of Chronic Laryngitis

Young woman holding her painful throat

Laryngitis is a common inflammatory condition of the larynx (or voice box). Much of the time laryngitis is painless, although some patients can experience pain. Laryngitis most often presents as voice hoarseness, frequent throat clearing, or a raspy or breathy voice. A sore throat and trouble swallowing may also occur.

The condition is more common in adults, although children can also contract it.  This is especially true for those who may strain their voice through overuse. A patient can contract laryngitis after a cold, prolonged cough, or respiratory disease. Coughing, in particular, can cause irritation of the larynx because it agitates the vocal cords by bringing them together.

Laryngitis could also occur for reasons unrelated to these conditions.  It can even be caused by second-hand smoke or exposure to pollutants in the air.

Chronic vs Acute Laryngitis

Although many cases of laryngitis happen only once and last about two weeks some can recur over time or persist. A case of laryngitis that lasts more than 3 weeks is generally categorized as chronic. Normally, a primary care doctor will refer patients to an ENT doctor after 3 weeks of hoarseness or other persistent symptoms of laryngitis.

Chronic Laryngitis Causes

The most common causes of chronic laryngitis include:

  • Bad habits that lead to throat irritation (smoking, for example).
  • A prolonged cough due to cold, flu, or another respiratory ailment.
  • Vocal abuse or overuse of voice (screaming, yelling).
  • Occupational hazards (e.g., singer, salesman, customer service, anyone who has to yell above noise on a regular basis).
  • Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, especially when paired with excessive alcohol use.
  • Post-nasal drip from sinusitis or allergy.

In some cases, laryngitis can be idiopathic, with no known cause.

Mitigating Your Risk

How can you minimize your risk of contracting laryngitis or minimize its effects? Most laryngitis is viral which means it simply has to run its course. Doctors will not prescribe antibiotics for laryngitis. However, there are still some steps you can take, depending on your symptoms.

  • Stay as hydrated as possible at all times.
  • Keep your allergies under control, either through medication or exposure to allergens.
  • If your laryngitis is caused by acid reflux, manage your reflux as best you can. Limit your exposure to tomato-based foods, spicy foods, alcohol, smoking, and caffeine. Elevate the head of your bed by 45 degrees with foam wedges or blocks. Try not to have any food 4 hours before bedtime. Your doctor may also recommend medication along with lifestyle changes.
  • If your laryngitis is caused by voice overuse, undertake voice rest for at least a week.
  • If you have a prolonged cough you may require medicine (possibly antibiotics) and rest.
  • If you are suffering from chronic sinusitis, talk to your doctor about next steps.

Are you experiencing the symptoms of chronic laryngitis? Do you have questions about treatment options? Contact Virginia ENT today to make an appointment.