June 29, 2007

Diet-Related ‘Irritable Larynx Syndrome’ on the Rise

By Meg Haskell, Bangor Daily News, Maine

Jun. 29--Add "irritable larynx syndrome" to the litany of ills related to Americans' poor health habits. Characterized by an ongoing cough, frequent throat-clearing and vocal hoarseness, the condition is on the rise throughout the country, including in Maine, and is in many cases directly related to our fatty diets and lack of exercise.

Dr. Robert Sataloff, a clinician in private practice and the head of ear nose and throat studies at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, is in Maine this week educating physicians, speech pathologists and singing teachers about the condition and other matters associated with voice health.

Sataloff is the keynote speaker at a two-day professional symposium in Belfast sponsored by the Voice and Swallowing Center of Maine, an affiliate of the Waldo County General Hospital.

"This is an extremely common problem, but it is often not recognized," Sataloff said in a phone interview during a break in the schedule on Thursday.

The syndrome is often caused and made worse by the reflux of stomach acid up the esophagus to the voice box, or larynx, he said. Reflux is more common and more intense in people who are overweight and those who have fat-heavy diets.

But because many people do not experience the uncomfortable "heart burn" associated with reflux, misdiagnosis is common: asthma and allergies are often blamed for the symptoms.

"When acid reflux is bad enough that it's irritating the larynx, it's been in the esophagus long enough to do serious damage," Sataloff said. That damage can set the stage for dangerous illnesses, including esophageal and laryngeal cancer, he said.

Less life-threatening but still of concern are other problems associated with vocal chord irritation, he said, including pain, voice strain and complete loss of the ability to speak.

Sataloff, who is a professional singer as well as the author of numerous books and articles in medical journals, spoke to approximately 80 conference attendees about the basic anatomy and physiology of the larynx, different ways to measure and diagnose problems, and new treatments for voice problems. Attendees came from Maine, other states, Canada and Taiwan.

"They'll leave with a better working knowledge to provide better care," he said, "and a better understanding of what they don't know so they can continue to educate themselves."

Speech pathologist Michael Towey, manager of the Voice and Swallowing Center of Maine, said Sataloff is one of the world's best-known voice specialists. His presentation at the symposium, Towey said, helps assure that Mainers get "world-class treatment."

The Voice and Swallowing Center of Maine treats patients for vocal chord strain and irritation, stroke-related speech and swallowing disorders and other medical conditions.

It also provides speech modification services to people who use their voices professionally, including singers, telemarketers, teachers, clergy and others.

More information about the center can be found at www.wchi.com/slp/t_cva.html. Information about Dr. Sataloff is available at www.phillyent.com.


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