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Lost Your Voice to Laryngitis?

What causes laryngitis? For the past week, my voice has been so weak that I can barely be heard. I haven’t had a cold recently.
Answer (Published 3/1/2007)

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal cords, usually due to an infection, fatigue, or irritation. A cold or sore throat can lead to laryngitis. So can overuse of your voice – this is most common among singers and others who have to use their voices constantly – politicians, for example. In addition to illness or overuse, drinking alcohol and smoking can also both irritate the vocal cords and larynx – if so, laryngitis may be your body’s way of telling you to cut back on drinking and to stop smoking. Another common cause is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Sometimes, acid can get into the back of the throat and irritate or even damage the surface tissue of the vocal cords.

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(Hoarseness or even voice loss can be symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Blood tests can begin to determine whether your thyroid is to blame. A rare cause of persistent hoarseness is laryngeal cancer.)

  • The most important thing you can do when you have laryngitis is rest your voice. Inhaling steam can help, as well, as can sucking on lozenges to soothe your throat. Drink plenty of fluids but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which are irritating and will only make matters worse. Try not to clear your throat – it can increase the swelling of the vocal cords.
  • If you have chronic hoarseness that you can’t attribute to any of the common causes mentioned above, see your physician to get a proper diagnosis.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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