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Edema of the Vocal Cords

Edema, or the swelling, of the vocal cords is a condition that appears as an increase in volume, most commonly affecting both vocal cords. The consequences of this inflammation can include a change in the voice, called dysphonia; noisy breathing; and coughing. Excessive use of tobacco or alcohol is one of the main causes.

This inflammation of the vocal cords can also be found in various forms of laryngitis, namely: chronic laryngitis and acute laryngitis.

It is important to first look at the symptoms to avoid the risk of a more severe disease, like cancer.

Symptoms of Vocal Cord Edema

The main symptom of edema of the vocal cords is a hoarseness, which usually becomes more severe. Whether the laryngitis is acute or chronic, it is experienced by the patient in both cases, but it is persistent in the case of chronic laryngitis. Symptoms may also be short-term, but recurring. In all cases, you should consult a doctor or an ENT.

Diagnosis of Vocal Cord Edema

A medical exam can detect the type of inflammation of the vocal cords in question. A doctor will examine the vocal cords with a test called direct laryngoscopy.

In the case of acute laryngitis, the vocal cords and the entire larynx will be red and edematous.

In the case of chronic laryngitis, the following can be detected the vocal cords will be thick, red, and congested. A potential cancerous lesion is suspected if there is a whitish mucosa present as well.

In case of doubt, a sample taken at the vocal cords allow analysis by a pathologist and the detection of dysplasia, pre-cancerous changes.

Treatment of Vocal Cord Edema

Acute laryngitis heals spontaneously, but requires the voice be put to rest and the patient to stop smoking. Corticosteroids are sometimes prescribed.

Various forms of chronic laryngitis require that risk factors (i.e. smoking, forcing the voice, toxic vapors or fumes, chronic ENT infections, etc.) be entirely avoided. In these cases, treatment requires speech therapy, monitoring of any present dysplastic lesions, chemotherapy, and surgical treatment (sometimes supplemented by radiotherapy if a tumor is found).

Prevention of Vocal Cord Edema

To prevent the swelling of the vocal cords, it is imperative not to force the voice excessively and not to smoke or drink alcohol. It is also better to avoid toxic fumes. Finally, gastro-oesophageal reflux and any ENT infection should be treated, as they can also cause the swelling of the vocal cords.

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