News Release

December 16, 2004

Contact: Maureen McGuire, 860-679-4523

New Treatment Zaps Common Voice Problems

Farmington, Conn. – Experts at the Voice and Speech Clinic at the University of Connecticut Health Center are offering a new laser technique to swiftly and simply treat some benign lesions that cause voice problems. The laser procedure is performed in the office, rather than the operating room, allowing for a faster and easier recovery than traditional surgery.

“The Pulse Dye Laser has been used successfully for many years to remove skin problems such as birth marks, stretch marks, spider veins, warts and bunions. It is now proven to be equally successful at removing benign growths from the voice box, such as laryngeal papilloma,” explains ear, nose and throat specialist Denis Lafreniere, M.D., director of the Voice and Speech Clinic.

The device is “tuned” to a specific wavelength of light. It produces a bright light that is absorbed by blood vessels, destroying the abnormal blood vessels without damaging the surrounding tissue. “The laser destroys the lesion and only the lesion,” Dr. Lafreniere said, noting that most patients only require local anesthesia and experience minimal pain.

Laryngeal papillomas are benign growths that can appear on the vocal cords and surrounding tissues, Dr. Lafreniere explained. “The lesions are usually caused by a virus and traditionally have required excision in the operating room utilizing either CO2 lasers or cold steel techniques. These techniques typically required general anesthesia. The patient often needed several weeks of voice rest to recover from these procedures and usually had moderate post operative discomfort,” Dr. Lafreniere said.

“The Pulse dye laser, however, is now used in an outpatient setting and because of the superficial nature of the treatment, there is much less discomfort. The technique is also currently being tested for use in the treatment of laryngeal dysplasia,” he added.

At UConn, people with voice problems are evaluated by a team of experts. It is the only comprehensive voice and speech clinic in Connecticut, offering patients medical care with Dr. Lafreniere as well as two voice-trained speech pathologists and professional singers, Starr Cookman, and Trish Doyle.

The entire team is involved in the initial voice assessments. Dr. Lafreniere pays particular attention to contributing medical factors and the speech therapists analyze the functional realm.

“The most gratifying part of our work is helping people regain the ability to communicate with their loved ones, as well as helping people who use their voice for their livelihood,” Dr. Lafreniere added, noting that many people who experience voice problems use their voice for their careers, including lawyers, preachers, teachers, sales-people, singers and others.

Other than lesions on the voice box, voice problems can also be caused by neurologic disorders that cause damage to the central or peripheral nervous system, such as Parkinson disease or stroke. Also, anatomic problems, such as allergies or the reflux of gastric juices, can affect voice.

Signs and symptoms of voice problems that require medical attention include:

  • Hoarseness that lasts several weeks
  • Persistent throat pain – when throat feels raw, achy or strained for several weeks
  • More effort is needed to talk normally; voice feels strained
  • Unusual changes in voice such as the inability to hit some high notes when singing
  • Sounding like you have a cold or cough – when in fact, you don’t have a cold or cough

To best preserve one’s voice, UConn experts offer the following advice:

  • Drink plenty of fluids: Vocal tissues are easily dehydrated. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate tissues, so increase your water intake if you consume these substances. Maintaining proper humidity in the home is also helpful.
  • Avoid airborne irritants: Smoke is irritating to the throat and vocal tissues. It can cause hoarseness and other changes in the quality of the voice and can lead to tissue changes, including cancerous growths on the vocal cords that require medical or surgical treatment.
  • Avoid vocal abuse and misuse: Yelling, screaming, speaking at too low a pitch, and speaking or singing too loudly or for too long can result in problems such as inflammation and swelling of the vocal cords.
  • Treat reflux: Heartburn, or esophageal reflux, is the regurgitation of stomach juices into the esophagus and throat. This irritates the larynx and can lead to coughing, burning, hoarseness, excess mucous, and throat clearing. Over time, it can cause ulcers on the vocal cords.
  • Take vocal naps: Rest your voice for 15-minute intervals several times during the day, particularly if you use your voice often.

For more information about the Voice and Speech Clinic, call the UConn Health Center at 800-535-6232.

UConn Health includes the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the UConn Medical Group, University Dentists, and John Dempsey Hospital. Home to Bioscience Connecticut, UConn Health pursues a mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service. More information about UConn Health is available at

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