Published: Apr. 13, 2011
Updated: Aug. 4, 2011
Polypoid degeneration of the vocal folds -- also known as Reinke’s edema -- is swelling that occurs along the vocal fold edges and usually affects both vocal folds.
Long-term, chronic irritation to the throat makes the vocal folds swollen and filled with a jelly-like substance, which replaces the healthy tissue. This damage takes place over time, making the voice sound raspy or hoarse and deepening the pitch.
In some cases, the vocal folds may become so swollen that the airway will become restricted, causing shortness of breath and stridor (a noise heard as you inhale). If you notice changes in your breathing, you should be evaluated by a doctor.
Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the swollen tissue; this will improve the breathing and the voice.
Besides improving breathing, voice surgery can also improve the voice quality, but likely will not result in the return of completely normal voice. This is because the vocal fold tissues have been permanently injured by chronic irritation.
The injured tissue can be removed surgically, but the body will not replace it by producing more healthy tissue. So some degree or hoarseness will remain, even after surgery.
Voice therapy can often improve the vocal quality, and your doctor may recommend this either with or without surgery. If voice surgery is not recommended, the patient shoudl be seen by the doctor for routine follow up.
Polypoid degeneration of the vocal folds is not a cancerous condition, despite being closely linked to smoking. Patients who are smokers are strongly urged to quit smoking, to avoid causing more damage to the vocal folds.
If a patient undergoes surgery, the doctor will strongly recommend smoking cessation before surgery, so that postoperative recovery will not be compromised. If the patient continues to smoke after surgery, polypoid changes are likely to recur.