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What Is Reinke's Edema?

By Stephany Seipel
Updated May 17, 2024
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Reinke's edema, or polypoid corditis, is irritation or inflammation of the vocal cords. People who have Reinke's edema often have deep, rough voices. Medical practitioners treat the problem by recommending lifestyle changes or surgical procedures.

The vocal folds are tissues inside the throat that move depending on what sounds the speaker is making. The lamina propria is a three-layered section of tissue inside the vocal fold. The top layer of the lamina propria is called Reinke's space. This loose top layer vibrates over the lower layers.

Reinke's edema occurs when fluids build up in this area of the vocal folds. This condition often occurs in smokers or in people who suffer from gastric reflux disorders. It is not cancerous or precancerous, but the swelling might impair breathing. This condition can also exacerbate the symptoms of sleep apnea, which is a disorder that causes sufferers to periodically stop breathing during their sleep.

The tissues in the vocal folds become swollen with fluid, which causes them to vibrate less. The patient's voice assumes a lower pitch and might become rough or gravelly because of the chronic swelling. Although it often occurs in men, it is most noticeable in middle-aged women who have been smoking for many years.

The swelling inside the vocal folds is not always consistent on both sides. One side might be considerably more inflamed than the other. The liquid inside the tissues becomes increasingly more gelatinous as the disease progresses, and it might turn into vocal polyps in some individuals.

A doctor can diagnose the condition by performing a complete medical examination. He or she will conduct a physical examination and will request information about the patient's medical history and background. The physician will perform an endoscopy, a procedure in which he or she inserts a long, thin flexible tube with a tiny camera into the mouth. The doctor might also request other laboratory tests as needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

The doctor might recommend speech therapy to help the patient strengthen his or her vocal cords. If the patient's problem is caused by gastric reflux, the doctor will prescribe acid reflux medication or other medications as needed to get the reflux under control. Many cases of Reinke's edema clear up after surgery.

Reinke's edema is evidence of serious damage to the vocal cords. This condition sometimes improves on its own if the patient quits smoking. Many doctors will not operate until after the patient stops smoking, because the condition is likely to return after surgery if the patient continues to smoke.

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