Do you or someone you know have “smoker’s voice”—that raspy, gravelly voice that’s much deeper than normal? It’s most likely due to a condition called Reinke’s edema. The cause of Reinke’s edema is almost always smoking, which exposes the area of the throat that houses the vocal cords to the heat of inhaled cigarette smoke.
The layer of tissue that covers the vocal fold inside the throat is known as Reinke’s layer. When the upper layer of Reinke’s space becomes enlarged or swollen with accumulated mucous due to smoking, it is known as Reinke’s edema (also called polypoid corditis).
The low-pitched voice characteristic of Reinke’s edema is generally more noticeable in women than men. When the vocal fold covering is enlarged, it vibrates more slowly than normal-sized vocal folds, which deepens the voice. In severe cases of Reinke’s edema, the swelling can sometimes be large enough to block part of the airways and make breathing difficult.
The most obvious and also the most effective immediate treatment for Reinke’s edema is to stop smoking. The edema itself is a warning sign from the body that continued smoking will cause even more damage, so it is important to take steps to stop smoking in order to both treat the edema and to prevent further complications, either in the throat or elsewhere.
If you stop smoking and the edema does not resolve, surgery may be necessary to reduce the size of the Reinke’s layer. Dr. Yagoda of Manhattan/ New York City / NYC/ New York/ NY, is an experienced otolaryngologist (physician specializing in the care of the ear, nose, and throat) who can thoroughly examine your throat to see if you have signs of Reinke’s edema. In addition, she will examine the entire surface of the mouth, nose, and throat in order to check for any cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions, as smoking is the main cause of mouth cancer.