Pain in larynx: causes/symptoms of laryngeal headache

Pain in the larynx (or at the level of the larynx) can have various causes. The larynx or larynx is the organ in your neck that is involved in breathing, protecting the trachea and making sound. Laryngeal headache often indicates a dry throat or mild respiratory disease. This is especially true if, in addition to pain in the larynx, there are also additional symptoms, such as coughing or a runny nose. However, sometimes the pain in the larynx indicates a serious laryngeal disease. This pain can sometimes also be experienced as a lumpy feeling.

  • Pain in the larynx
  • Causes of laryngeal headache
  • Laryngitis or laryngeal inflammation
  • Acute laryngitis
  • Infiltrative purulent laryngitis
  • Chronic laryngitis
  • Laryngopharyngitis
  • Subglottic laryngitis
  • Other causes
  • Symptoms
  • Laryngeal headache
  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Breathing problems
  • General symptoms of disease
  • Symptoms of reflux disease
  • Symptoms of thyroid disorders
  • Symptoms of trauma in the neck area


Pain in the larynx

The larynx is a very complex organ located in the throat where the airway and food passage are separated. It consists mainly of various cartilage, muscle and ligament structures and is particularly essential for your voice. The true vocal folds or true vocal cords are located in the larynx. The vocal cords are a kind of gate that can close off your trachea. If the vocal folds or vocal cords are irritated due to unnatural external conditions, laryngeal headaches in this area are not uncommon. The pain is usually accompanied by a rough voice or hoarseness.

Causes of laryngeal headache

In laryngeal headaches, a distinction must be made between pain symptoms directly in the larynx and radiating pain. Radiating pain is mainly caused by classic ENT disorders, such as a cold, flu, tonsillitis (tonsillitis), ear infection and pharyngitis (inflammation of the throat), but can also be caused by a thyroid disorder. Pharyngitis in particular is a common cause of radiating pain due to its proximity to the larynx and makes a clear diagnosis difficult due to accompanying symptoms such as hoarseness, sore throat and difficulty swallowing, which could just as easily be the result of a disease of the larynx. When it comes to pain actually localized to the larynx, laryngitis is probably the most common cause.

Laryngitis or laryngeal inflammation

There are five different forms of disease:

Acute laryngitis

Laryngitis is an inflammation of the larynx or upper trachea. It is also called laryngitis. Acute laryngitis often follows a cold. Besides pain in the larynx, the most common symptoms are hoarseness and temporary loss of voice. The upper part of the trachea may also be involved in the disease process, causing additional breathing difficulties.

Infiltrative purulent laryngitis

Infiltrative purulent laryngitis is a relatively rare, but dangerous form of laryngitis. This form of laryngitis is an infiltrative-purulent inflammation of the submucosal layer, the muscles and the ligaments and cartilage of the larynx and the perichondrium (a layer of dense connective tissue surrounding cartilage). The culprits are often bacteria such as streptococci or staphylococci that penetrate the tissue of the larynx either from its surface when it is injured, or after an infectious disease (in children) after measles and scarlet fever. Severe fever, swallowing problems and (life-threatening) breathing disorders can occur with this form of laryngitis.

Chronic laryngitis

Laryngitis becomes chronic, mainly due to persistent irritation, such as caused by smoking or working in a dusty and dry environment. Chronic pre-existing conditions such as acid reflux, chronic bronchitis or incorrect strain on the vocal cords, for example due to incorrect vocal technique, can be the cause. Any laryngitis that lasts longer than three weeks should be considered chronic.


Due to the direct connection of the throat and larynx, pharyngitis and laryngeal inflammation often occur together. In most cases, the pharyngitis spreads to the larynx as the disease progresses because it was not treated on time or insufficiently. Because the course usually lasts more than three weeks, laryngopharyngeitis is also often chronic.

Subglottic laryngitis or pseudocroup / Source: Frank Gaillard, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Subglottic laryngitis

Subglottic laryngitis, also called pseudocroup, is an inflammation of the larynx below the glottis. Hoarseness and a barking cough are typical of this form of laryngitis. As with acute laryngitis, the potential inflammatory pathogens are usually from viruses, including:

  • adenoviruses
  • Eppstein-Barr virus (EBV)
  • herpes viruses
  • influenza viruses
  • human metapneumovirus (hMPV)
  • rhinoviruses
  • RS virus
  • varicella zoster virus


Other causes

In addition to laryngitis, other diseases can also affect the vocal organ, causing laryngeal pain as an accompanying complaint. These specifically include laryngeal cancer and a laryngocele, an air- or fluid-filled cavity in the larynx, which can bulge into the neck. Damage to the larynx, for example due to external violent trauma, can also be a possible cause of the pain. Chronic strain on the vocal cords due to long speeches or singing sessions should not be underestimated as the main cause of painful hoarseness. In this context, several risk groups can also be mentioned, which relatively often suffer from laryngeal headaches caused by irritation of the vocal cords, such as teachers, singers, actors or professional speakers.


Laryngeal headache

Pain in the larynx can occur with many different conditions and can therefore vary in severity and intensity. For example, a slight hoarseness in the throat may occur, sometimes as a result of frequent throat clearing. As the disease progresses, the hoarseness may develop into a pronounced dry feeling with an urge to cough. In most cases, the cough remains unproductive, i.e. without coughing up mucus from the upper airways. Depending on the cause, the event can develop into a severe sore throat with a noticeable lump in the throat. Those affected then describe a clear tightness or a feeling of a lump in the throat, which cannot be relieved by swallowing and clearing the throat more often. The pain is usually experienced as dull and oppressive and can radiate to the ear area. In case of inflammatory processes, the pain can also be experienced as burning or stabbing. In most cases, regardless of the underlying cause, pain in the larynx does not occur in isolation, but is accompanied by a number of other symptoms, such as the following.

Voice changes

Sometimes voice changes can occur. This is often reflected in the fact that you have difficulty speaking or that your voice is completely absent. Changes in pitch or hoarseness also occur. Usually the cause is related to the vocal cords. Occasionally, space-occupying processes or a postoperative complication can lead to paralysis of the nerve involved in voice formation, the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

Difficulty swallowing

Both pain due to inflammatory processes and the growth of degenerated cells in the neck and neck region can lead to more or less pronounced swallowing problems as the disease progresses. It is not uncommon for this symptom to progress so far that even swallowing saliva causes severe pain. Swallowing problems are associated with great suffering and must be treated by addressing the underlying disease.

Breathing problems

Breathing problems associated with pathological processes in the larynx area can have two causes. They result either from swelling of the mucous membranes in the airway region, for example in response to inflammatory processes, or from the gradual narrowing of the airways due to the growth of degenerated cells (e.g. cancer cells ).

General symptoms of disease

Larynx disorders can be accompanied by very general symptoms, such as those you see with a cold. These include:

  • mild fever
  • rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucosa) and nasal congestion or runny nose
  • sinus pain
  • fatigue and general malaise

If there is significant weight loss, this may be due to reduced food intake due to possible swallowing difficulties. Sometimes there is significant weight loss as a result of cancer. A significant and unintentional weight loss without a clear cause is therefore always a warning sign and should be further examined by a doctor.

Symptoms of reflux disease

In reflux disease, stomach acid flows into the esophagus. This is perceived as heartburn. Reflux very often occurs at night when you lie flat in bed. In this case, stomach acid can even flow back into the throat and irritate the larynx. Hoarseness, difficulty swallowing due to irritation of the larynx and the need to clear the throat may indicate reflux disease, especially if the symptoms occur in the morning after getting up and subside during the day.

Goiter or swollen thyroid gland / Source: Drahreg01, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Symptoms of thyroid disorders

The symptoms of thyroid disorders are very diverse. There may be an overactive thyroid or an underactive thyroid, autoimmune disorders in the thyroid gland and degeneration of the thyroid tissue, all of which, due to their anatomical location, can also cause symptoms in the larynx. For example, there may be a clearly noticeable and recognizable swelling of soft tissue in the neck, a goiter. With a goiter, your thyroid gland is enlarged. Changes in your voice and a feeling of lump in the throat are also commonly described by people with thyroid disorders. Because the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate complex processes in the body, thyroid disease can also affect several other parts of the body and cause various associated symptoms.

Symptoms of trauma in the neck area

Often as a result of car accidents, but also due to sports injuries or fights, trauma to the larynx can occur. This is medically known as a laryngeal trauma. This manifests itself in very severe pain and often in visible bruises. If the lining of the larynx is damaged, small or large amounts of blood may be coughed up. In this case, an emergency doctor should be called as soon as possible as this is a potential emergency.

read more

  • Laryngitis: symptoms and treatment laryngeal inflammation
  • Laryngeal cancer: symptoms, cause and treatment
  • Pseudocroup: contagious, attack, symptoms and treatment
  • Sore throat, coughing and loss of voice (hoarseness): causes
  • Throat Clearing: Symptoms and Causes of Clearing the Throat
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