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New Laser Offers Alternative to Surgery in Treating Voice Disorders

Emory Crawford Long Hospital is the only site in the Southeast to use a new type of laser to treat certain voice disorders that in the past might have required surgery.

Called the pulsed potassium-titanyl-phosphate (KTP) laser, the device uses energy and heat to shut down and starve blood vessels on the voice box (larynx), or vocal cords, rather than removing them surgically. That's good news for those singers, teachers, lawyers and constant cell phone talkers who have recurrent voice conditions because of voice overuse.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 7.5 million people have diseases or disorders of the voice.

Last year, the pulsed KTP laser was used to treat Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler at Massachusetts General Hospital when a blood vessel burst on his vocal cord in the middle of his band's North American tour. Specialists were able to seal the rock star's broken blood vessel within seconds using the laser.

"This new laser is our best line of treatment for those with broken blood vessels from vocal overuse, papillomas (vocal cord growths) and precancerous lesions on the vocal cords," says Adam Klein, MD, of the Emory Voice Center and assistant professor of otolaryngology (ENT), Emory University School of Medicine.

"Many times, these conditions are chronic, and this new laser allows us to now treat them in the office monthly or bimonthly, without ever having to go to the operating room. This option is great for patients because they can stay awake for the procedure and do not need general anesthesia."

The in-office procedure involves numbing the throat and placing an endoscope down through the nose to view the larynx and vocal cords. Doctors then snake the flexible laser down the scope to treat the problem, all while the patient is awake.

The pulsed laser was initially developed to treat port-wine stains on a baby's skin because it heated the bl ood causing the stain without stiffening the delicate baby skin around it.

"The most common treatment for voice disorders such as broken blood vessels and papillomas is surgical removal in the operating room," says Michael Johns, MD, director of the Emory Voice Center and assistant professor of otolaryngology (ENT) at Emory School of Medicine.

"But the intense heat from some surgical tools and tissue removal from surgical excision can leave the voice damaged. Because the pulsed KTP laser is designed to work with more delicate tissue, it is a better option for many patients."

While the laser can be used while patients are awake, it also can be used during surgical procedures for patients with disease too extensive to treat in the doctor's office or for patients who cannot tolerate the treatment while awake.

The pulsed KTP laser is FDA approved to treat voice disorders and its use is covered by most insurance plans.


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