Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx (voice box). There are infectious and noninfectious causes, both of which can cause you to lose your voice. Sore throat, fever, hoarseness, trouble swallowing, and a persistent dry cough are also common.

Some infectious causes of laryngitis are contagious. Most involve a virus, including upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) like colds, flu, and COVID-19. There are also bacterial and fungal causes that are spread and treated differently. Depending on the type of infection you have, the condition may resolve on its own or require treatment.

This article explains what laryngitis is and why it occurs. It also describes the infections that can cause laryngitis, including how contagious they are and what is involved in the treatment.

Illustration by Mira Norian for Verywell Health

Do I Have Acute Laryngitis?

Laryngitis can either be acute (meaning sudden, severe, and typically short-lasting) or chronic (meaning slow, persistent, and often progressive).

Acute causes are those that involve infections or trauma. Chronic causes are often more serious, either because the underlying condition is difficult to control or the vocal cords have sustained damage (such as nerve injury, polyps, or nodules).

The acute and chronic causes of laryngitis can be broadly characterized as follows:

Acute Laryngitis

  • Viral infections

  • Bacterial infections

  • Fungal infections

  • Vocal cord trauma, such as excessive yelling, screaming, or singing

How Did I Lose My Voice From Laryngitis?

Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection or injury. When the body is confronted with something it considers harmful, the immune system will respond by releasing chemicals that induce inflammation.

One of the primary aims of inflammation is to dilate (widen) smaller blood vessels known as capillaries. This provides defensive white blood cells easier access to the site of the assault. The dilation, in turn, causes fluids to leak into surrounding tissues, leading to swelling, pain, and heat.

With laryngitis, inflammation causes the vocal cords housed within the larynx to swell. Because the vocal cords produce sound by vibrating, any swelling can block their ability to vibrate, leading to hoarseness or the temporary loss of your voice (aphonia).

Common triggers for laryngeal inflammation include infections, environmental irritants, allergens, and the overuse of the vocal cords.

Is Viral Laryngitis Contagious?

Certain acute causes of laryngitis are contagious, meaning that they can be transmitted from person to person through direct or indirect contact.

This is especially true with viral laryngitis, which is mainly caused by viruses that target the upper respiratory tract (including nostrils, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and larynx).

Depending on the virus, the infection may be transmitted by direct contact, contact with respiratory secretions on surfaces or objects, or by inhaling respiratory droplets from people who cough or sneeze.

Common causes of viral laryngitis include:

Viral Laryngitis in Children

Many respiratory viruses (including adenovirus, influenza viruses, parainfluenza virus, and RSV) cause croup in children. Children with croup commonly experience laryngitis along with a high-pitched squeaking or whistling sound called stridor.

Bacterial and Fungal Laryngitis

Certain bacteria and fungi can also cause acute laryngitis, some of which are more contagious than others.

Bacterial laryngitis can occur on its own or alongside a viral URTI (as a secondary infection). Some are spread in the same way as colds and flu, while others are opportunistic (meaning that the bacteria naturally reside in the body and only cause disease when the immune system is compromised).

Others still are caused by hospital procedures that accidentally introduce bacteria like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) into the body through touch or contaminated instruments.

Common causes of bacterial laryngitis include:

Fungal laryngitis is not contagious in the same way as viral and bacterial laryngitis. The infection is not transmitted from person to person but rather by inhaling the fungal spores from contaminated soil. Fungal laryngitis can affect healthy people but is largely opportunistic.

Others, like Candida, naturally reside in the body and only cause laryngitis when the immune system is suppressed and the fungus becomes activated.

Causes of fungal laryngitis include:

Treatment: How to Get Over Laryngitis Quickly 

Viral laryngitis is generally self-limiting, meaning that it will resolve on its own over time. The same may not be true for bacterial or fungal laryngitis.

While certain viral causes of laryngitis (like influenza or COVID-19) may benefit from antiviral drugs like Tamiflu (oseltamivir), Relenza (zanamivir), or Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir), they may not improve or help speed the recovery from viral laryngitis.

Most of the focus of treatment is placed on supportive care, reducing pain and inflammation until the viral infection runs its course.

This may involve at-home treatments like:

These same treatments can help ease pain and inflammation in people with bacterial or fungal laryngitis as well as those with acute vocal strain or chronic laryngitis.

Dextromethorphan is avoided in smokers with a chronic cough as it can cause the accumulation of mucus in the lungs. Tylenol is avoided in people who use alcohol heavily due to the risk of liver damage.

Bacterial laryngitis is often more severe and may require antibiotics to clear the infection. The same applies to fungal laryngitis, which sometimes requires the prolonged use of antifungal drugs.

Smoking and Laryngitis

Arguably, the worst thing you can do if you have laryngitis is smoke. Not only is smoking a risk factor for chronic laryngitis, but it can also increase the severity and duration of acute laryngitis.

Tobacco smoke contains chemicals like formaldehyde and nicotine that promote throat inflammation while inducing coughs that place additional strain on the vocal cords.

How Long It Takes to Heal From Laryngitis 

By definition, acute laryngitis lasts no longer than three weeks, while chronic laryngitis persists for longer than three weeks or recurs.

With vocal rest, most cases of viral laryngitis will clear within a week. Bacterial or fungal laryngitis may take longer, but most will fully clear within two weeks with the appropriate antibiotic or antifungal medication.

The duration of chronic laryngitis can vary by the cause.

Chronic laryngitis develops gradually with symptoms that come and go over a long period of time. Even with proper management, diseases like seasonal allergies, GERD, rheumatoid arthritis, and sarcoidosis can cause symptoms, particularly in those who have had previous bouts of laryngitis.

In people who smoke or drink heavily, laryngitis is more likely to recur and is more likely to cause frequent and progressively worsening symptoms.

When Laryngitis Is Not Getting Better

Not all cases of acute laryngitis resolve quickly. In some cases, it is possible for viral laryngitis to persist and become chronic. This is becoming increasingly common with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as MRSA.

Some studies suggest that the bacteria, commonly spread in hospitals, can cause laryngitis in 30% of people who acquire it. In such cases, a prolonged course of the antibiotic Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim) may be needed to clear the infection. Other antibiotics like Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanic acid) may be far less effective.

On rare occasions, corticosteroid (steroid) drugs like dexamethasone may be prescribed to reduce laryngeal inflammation. This is a common approach for children with croup who develop laryngitis with severe respiratory distress and vomiting.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Laryngitis is generally not serious, but you should see a healthcare provider if:

  • Symptoms do not improve after two weeks.
  • You have a high fever (over 102 degrees F).
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You are coughing up blood.
  • You have other symptoms that concern you.


Acute laryngitis causes symptoms for no longer than three weeks. Some causes are contagious, including viral infections (like colds) and bacterial infections (like whooping cough) that are transmitted from person to person. Fungal infections can also cause laryngitis but are not transmitted from person to person.

Chronic laryngitis causes symptoms that last longer than three weeks. The causes—including allergies, GERD, heavy smoking, and other conditions—are generally not contagious. With that said, certain infections like MRSA may resist treatment and become chronic.

Source link