Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx, part of the throat, characterized by voice loss and irritation of the vocal cords. This condition has many causes, including smoking, shouting, severe gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), and various allergies. The most common cause, however, is an infection, which could be either viral or bacterial. Inflammation can also be caused by some serious medical conditions such as tonsillitis, bronchitis, or even pneumonia. If caused by an infection, the disease causing the laryngitis may be contagious.
An infection of the upper respiratory track, such as a cold or the flu, can often cause laryngitis. A viral case cannot be treated with antibiotics, which means that a medical professional will prescribe rest, steam inhalations, and lots of fluids. This condition is usually not contagious and often goes away in a couple of days. Using a cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom and avoid smoking may also help. Because there are not many medications available to treat this inflammation, the best course of action is to treat the symptoms while waiting for the problem to go away on its own.
The presence of a fever usually indicates the inflammation is caused by a bacterial infection. Bacterial laryngitis is contagious, and it's usually acquired from somebody else who is already sick. It can be spread until a day or two after the last symptom has disappeared and if the infection is serious, this may take several weeks. Aside from a high fever, other symptoms that indicate the presence of bacterial laryngitis are severe pain rather than a simple sore throat, difficulty swallowing, colored nasal discharge, and pain extending to the ears. This condition is especially serious in a child, since it can hide a severe condition called epiglottitis, where the airway closes almost completely.
People who think that they may have a bacterial throat infection should stay home and away from other people. In most cases, a medical professional will prescribe a course of antibiotics and recommend treating the symptoms at home with voice rest and hot drinks. Until the infection has cleared, it's better to minimize contact with others, as the infection can be spread without direct contact, through coughing. Most cases resolve in less than a week, after which is safe to return to a normal routine.