The exact incidence of laryngitis isn’t known because many people never see a doctor for the symptoms. Peak incidence is between 18 and 40. It’s most commonly caused by a viral infection, but can also occur through bacterial infection or overuse of the voice.
Joel Blumin, M.D., an Otolaryngologist with the Medical College of Wisconsin, says gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, can also irritate the larynx and lead to laryngitis. In fact, GERD is a common cause of chronic laryngitis. Experts says patients with laryngitis should see a doctor when symptoms persist for more than two to three weeks or are accompanied by high fever, coughing up yellow or green phlegm or blood or have swallowing or breathing problems. A diagnosis can be made based on the patient’s reported symptoms and an endoscopic examination of the throat.
Many cases can be treated with simple home measures. Rest the voice, drink plenty of water to keep the throat moist, inhale warm steam and gargle with a salt water solution. Avoid cigarette smoke, alcohol and caffeine, which can dry the throat. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain.
Blumin says some people get relief from cough drops. However, he recommends avoiding numbing cough drops or throat spray because patients may be tempted to abuse their vocal cords and are less likely to feel pain that can signal a more serious problem (like bleeding). Since most cases of laryngitis are caused by a virus, antibiotics are not recommended unless a bacterial infection is suspected. Patients with chronic laryngitis can often get relief through treatment of underlying conditions, like GERD.