Reinke’s oedema

This is the medical term for a swelling (oedema) of the vocal cords which causes them to have an uneven appearance. This also affects the quality of sounds produced by the vocal cords.

People with Reinke’s oedema develop a deep pitched, rough sounding voice. They also find it more difficult to speak than usual.

This condition affects more women than men.

Causes of Reinke’s oedema

Smoking is the main culprit but other causes include:

  • Underactive thyroid
  • Acid reflux
  • Overuse of the voice

Reinke’s oedema requires require further investigation. Your GP will refer you to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist who will insert a small flexible camera into your nose to examine your vocal cords.

A biopsy may also be performed. This involves the removal of a small section of tissue or cells for further analysis.

Symptoms of Reinke’s oedema

The voice sounds deeper than usual and at a lower tone. This drop in tone is more noticeable in women who have a higher pitched voice than men.

Treatment for Reinke’s oedema

This will depend upon the cause of the condition. If, for example, your condition is caused by smoking then you will be advised to give this up. This is particularly important as smoking causes a range of health problems which include cancer.

If this has been caused by excessive use of the voice, for example, singing or public speaking then you will be advised to rest your voice until this has cleared.

Other forms of treatment include:

  • Speech therapy: this can help improve the quality of your voice: it will also enable you to develop new ways of using your voice to avoid straining or overusing it.
  • Medication: if your condition has been caused by acid reflux or an underactive thyroid then medication will be prescribed to treat these.
  • Surgery: this is carried out to remove excess fluid from the vocal cords, but only as a last resort.

Is there more you can do?

Your vocal cords are delicate structures which require care and attention. This means looking after your voice.

Try to avoid smoky or dry environments. Drink plenty of fluids to keep the throat moist and give your voice a rest if it starts to show signs of overuse. These include a tingling sensation in your throat, a sore throat or a feeling of straining when you speak.

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