Health Team

Lasers zap throat lesions, help people speak more easily

Posted April 15, 2010 4:33 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2010 7:31 p.m. EDT

— Smoking, acid reflux and allergies can cause damage that makes speaking difficult. Surgery might not cure the problem, but a new outpatient laser procedure might be the answer.

People who have to use more effort to speak and have less speaking endurance should be on the alert.

Bob Reinheimer realized that something was wrong with his throat in December 2008.

"I noticed that I was having vocal problems and dryness, uncomfort in my throat," Reinheimer said.

Doctors found that there was a growth on his vocal chords, like a scab that wouldn't heal.

"What he has is a granuloma, which is an area of chronic inflammation," Dr. Seth Cohen, an otolayngologist with Duke-Raleigh Hospital. "It's very vascular. It's essentially the result of trauma."

Lesions and growths can form on the vocal chords. The condition makes speaking more difficult, and some lesions can develop into cancer if the condition isn't treated.

Reinheimer's lesion likely developed over time, due to conditions such as allergies or acid reflux, Cohen said. Even once doctors found it, it didn't get better.

"Despite all traditional treatments, this thing kept growing," Cohen said.

Rather than putting Reinheimer through surgery, Cohen decided to use a less-invasive procedure called the Green Laser.

In this procedure, a scope goes through the nose to the larynx and drips a topical anesthetic, so the patient won't feel the laser's heat as it zaps the lesion's blood vessels.

"When the blood supply to these lesions is taken away, these lesions slough off," Cohen said.

Patients usually undergo multiple treatments with the Green Laser over a period of months. For example, an ex-smoker with precancerous legions underwent four treatments over eight months.

"This is the third time we've done this," Reinheimer said. "It appears with each time, the growth has shrunk significantly."

Unlike after surgery, Green Laser patients "don't have to stop eating after midnight. They don't have to take an entire day off work. They don't have to recover from general anesthesia," Cohen said.

Reinheimer could drive himself home after the treatments and only had to wait two hours before eating again.