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Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (RRP) is an uncommon condition caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) that affects roughly 2,000 people in the United States.

Viral, non-cancerous warts called papillomas develop on the surfaces of the respiratory tract; most cases of RRP involve the voice box, or larynx. Occasionally, papillomas will grow in the mouth or windpipe and, in rare cases, the lungs. There are two types of RRP: adult onset and juvenile onset.

Even though papillomas are not cancerous, they are dangerous because their presence in the airway can make breathing difficult. Growth of papillomas can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening airway obstruction. After removal, papillomas tend to regrow because the virus persists in the tissue even after the growths are removed. It is important to have frequent examinations to keep the papillomas at a manageable level. While they are noncancerous, some very rare cases can become cancerous.

What Are the Symptoms of RRP?

Symptoms of RRP can include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Noisy, labored breathing (stridor)
  • Respiratory trouble
  • Chronic cough
  • Feeling that something is stuck in the throat (globus)
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Snoring
  • Weak crying in infants, failure to grow and gain weight at the expected rate, episodes of choking

What Causes RRP?

RRP is caused by HPV. Between 75 and 80 percent of people will be infected by HPV during their lifetime if not vaccinated against the virus. Many people infected with HPV may never develop symptoms. HPV is transmitted through genital contact, not through casual contact. It is not well understood why some people who have been exposed to the virus develop RRP and others do not.

Two specific HPV subtypes are responsible for more than 90 percent of cases of RRP: HPV 6 and HPV 11. Type 11 appears to be more aggressive and associated with airway obstruction and spreading to the lungs. Adult onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (AORRP) develops in the fourth decade of life whereas juvenile onset recurrent respiratory papillomatosis (JORRP) develops before age five. JORRP is more common and more severe than AORRP.

In children, HPV is likely transferred from an affected mother to the child during labor. However, C-sections do not appear to have a protective effect. Risk factors for JORRP include being a first-born child, having a vaginal delivery or prolonged labor, and the mother being under 20 years of age. In adults, less is known about the mode of transmission. Some patients are infected during infancy, but the disease may not develop until adulthood. Some evidence suggests that RRP can develop after HPV is transmitted through oral sexual contact. AORRP is worsened by tobacco use, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and radiation therapy.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Currently, there is no “cure” for RRP. The size and location of the lesions helps the treatment team decide which approach is best for each patient. The goals for treatment are to remove the papillomas, create an open airway, improve voice quality, and increase the time between surgical procedures. RRP is diagnosed by examining the upper airway by an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, during an office visit using a camera that is inserted through the nose or mouth. Once noted, diagnosis is confirmed by biopsy.

RRP is treated with surgery to remove the benign growths from the airway without damaging the underlying tissue or organs. This is usually performed in the operating room under general anesthesia. Some patients may require surgery every few weeks while others may only require surgery twice a year or a few times during their life. Surgical techniques used to remove RRP lesions include cold excision, microdebridement, and laser removal. Cold excision is the use of sharp surgical equipment to remove papillomas. Microdebridement involves suctioning the affected area, which is then cut away by a fast-rotating blade or shaver. Laser ablation uses a CO2 laser to directly destroy the papillomas in the airway.

Certain medications, including interferon, indole-3-carbinol, and cidofovir®, may be recommended to try to reduce the rate of papilloma regrowth, thereby increasing the time between necessary surgeries. Interferon is a synthetic form of certain proteins produced by the immune system, but because of its adverse effects, it is a second-line therapy for patients with hard-to-manage severe diseases. Indole-3-carbinol is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli, and has been shown to slow papilloma growth.

The most common antiviral medication used in patients with RRP is cidofovir. This drug is injected into the papilloma to slow the regrowth and increase the time between therapies. Initial studies of cidofovir indicate that it’s active against RRP and may lead to a partial response in some patients and complete remission in others. However, cidofovir may also cause several side effects and has a small potential for causing the papillomas to become cancerous.

Additional drugs are being studied as potential therapies for patients with RRP, including the monoclonal antibody bevacizumab. Bevacizumab has been shown to be effective when administered intravenously after surgical removal of papillomas. This form of treatment seems especially helpful in patients with rapidly recurring papillomas in the larynx and trachea.

In some severe cases, where tumor growth is aggressive, a patient may need a tracheostomy to keep the airway open. A tracheostomy involves surgically inserting a tube into the windpipe through the front of the neck. A tracheostomy is only used as a method of last resort because the procedure may allow for the spread of disease further into the respiratory tract.

An HPV vaccine, Gardasil-9®, has been developed to protect women from developing HPV-related cancers such as cervical cancer, men from developing penile cancer, and both men and women from developing genital warts and certain cancers of the head and neck. Among the subtypes of HPV covered by the vaccine are HPV 6 and HPV 11, those that cause RRP. The use of the Gardisil-9 vaccine in children before they are exposed to the virus will drastically lessen the spread of HPV in the general population. Unfortunately, this type of vaccine does not make existing infections go away.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  1. How and when did I contract HPV?
  2. What will you use to remove the lesions from my airway?
  3. Am I a candidate for in-office management of my RRP? Will I remain awake during the procedure? Are there advantages or disadvantages to this approach?
  4. Is laser treatment for RRP available at this institution?
  5. What are the risks of surgery? Will I need to be on voice rest after my surgery?
  6. Will I need to see a speech therapist after my surgery?
  7. Will the lesions return after they are removed? How will I know when they grow back?
  8. How often will you look inside my throat to monitor the papillomas after surgery?
  9. Does smoking impact my recovery from surgery?
  10. Will I develop cancer because I have RRP?

Oral lichen planus is a disease of chronic inflammation in the mouth. It affects one to two percent of adults, usually after the age of 40.

Patients experience patches, ulcers, or blisters inside their mouths which can vary from painless to painful and can persist for years between flareups. In almost all cases, the lining of the mouth shows lacy white patterns upon close examination.

People with oral lichen planus have an elevated risk of developing oral cancer. Therefore, it’s important for patients with this condition to consult their primary care physician about possibly establishing care with an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist.

What Are the Symptoms of Oral Lichen Planus?

If you have oral lichen planus, you may see:

  • Networks of fine white lines on your inner cheeks, tongue, or gums
  • Painful white patches, ulcers, or blisters on your inner cheeks, tongue, or gums
  • Redness surrounding these lesions inside your mouth
  • Lesions that persist for years, becoming more painful when you’re anxious or stressed
  • Itchy, bumpy, purplish rash on your wrists, ankles, or lower back

What Causes Oral Lichen Planus?

The ultimate cause of oral lichen planus is unknown. It appears to be an autoimmune disease in which T-cells trigger destruction in the cells that line the mouth. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), ACE inhibitors, or beta-blockers can trigger a flareup. Certain toothpastes, dental fillings, dentures, bite injury, and infection might also contribute to the disease process.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Discuss all medications you are taking with your physician(s). Practice proper oral hygiene and talk to your dentist about possibly changing your toothpaste. Any sharp teeth near the lesions should be filed by your dentist. Fillings or dentures that are irritating your mouth should be polished or replaced. If stress and anxiety are worsening your condition, consider speaking with someone who can help you bring these conditions under control.

You might be prescribed a steroid ointment or paste to apply in your mouth after meals. An alternative prescription medication is an ointment called tacrolimus, but this might sting and burn. Tacrolimus can also be mixed as a liquid and used as a mouth rinse with success.

To reduce your risk of developing oral cancer, do not smoke, do not chew betel (the leaf of an Asian evergreen climbing plant that is used in the East as a mild stimulant), and moderate your consumption of alcohol. See your ENT specialist again if your oral lesions start to change or look different.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  1. Is this oral lichen planus, or could it be something else?
  2. Does this spot look cancerous or pre-cancerous? Do I need a biopsy?
  3. Could this be caused by any medication I am currently taking?
  4. Would you recommend a steroid paste or ointment?
  5. Do stress and anxiety trigger or worsen oral lichen planus? What steps can I take to reduce my stress and anxiety?
  6. Will this condition get better, or might it return at a later date?

Dry mouth syndrome, also known as xerostomia, is very common and affects up to 30 percent of the population. It is more common in women and patients over the age of 65.

Dry mouth syndrome is often caused by a decrease in saliva from the salivary glands. Not only does saliva provide moisture to the oral cavity, it also helps patients swallow and digest food, protects against reflux, and has antibacterial effects that help prevent oral infections as well as dental disease.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth Syndrome?

Patients with dry mouth syndrome can develop many symptoms from the lack of saliva in the mouth and may experience:

  • Mouth discomfort and dryness
  • Burning of the tongue
  • Cracked, dry lips
  • Bad breath or halitosis
  • Difficulty with swallowing or digestion
  • Taste changes
  • Speech changes
  • Increase in dental plaque and cavities
  • Thrush infection (also known as candidiasis which is a yeast infection in the mouth)

What Causes Dry Mouth Syndrome?

There are a variety of causes of dry mouth syndrome. Aging leads to decreased salivary flow and can contribute to dry mouth although it is usually not the only cause. There may also be a hormonal component as it is more often seen in menopausal women. Many diseases can cause a decrease in oral saliva. Patients with diabetes, end-stage renal disease, Hepatitis C, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and HIV are more likely to have dry mouth syndrome. Patients who have had radiation to the head and neck often have dry mouth syndrome. Patients who smoke tobacco, have dentures, and are chronic mouth breathers are also more likely to experience dry mouth.

There are also over 500 medications that can cause dry mouth. Blood pressure medications, seizure medications, antidepressants, and opioids are some of the most common medications that can lead to dry mouth. In addition, interactions between certain medications can worsen the dry mouth. However, it is important to never stop a medication until discussing it with the prescribing physician first.

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s disease can cause dry mouth syndrome. In Sjogren’s disease, patients typically have both dry mouth and dry eyes. Certain blood tests are elevated in autoimmune diseases and are often tested in patients with dry mouth. Sjogren’s disease is confirmed with a biopsy of the minor salivary glands on the inside of the lip which an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, can do in the office.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Treatment of dry mouth syndrome depends on each patient. Diagnosis of dry mouth is often based on a patient’s history and physical examination. An ENT specialist can help figure out the cause of the dry mouth and see if the salivary glands are producing enough saliva. Lab work and potentially a minor salivary gland biopsy to evaluate for Sjogren’s disease may be recommended. Imaging studies are rarely needed.

It is important to discuss all medications with your physician to see if any of these are contributing to the dry mouth. Better control of underlying diseases can also help. For example, patients with diabetes benefit from good glycemic control. If an autoimmune disease is diagnosed, patients are referred to a rheumatologist, who is a board-certified internist or pediatrician who is qualified by additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones. If there is an overlying thrush infection, antifungal medication may be used.

Some therapeutic options are helpful no matter the cause. Patients should increase their daily water intake, take frequent sips of water, and avoid liquids with caffeine. Avoiding dry, acidic, and salty food, as well as tobacco and alcohol, is helpful. A humidifier while sleeping can add moisture to the oral cavity at night when saliva flow is the lowest. Daily dental care and regular visits with the dentist are important in order to prevent dental disease.

Certain over-the-counter salivary substitutes and lubricants can provide symptomatic relief. These come in different forms including oral rinses, gels, sprays, and lozenges. Sugar-free candies and chewing gum can also help stimulate salivary flow. Acupuncture may also provide some relief, but studies are mixed on its benefits. Both pilocarpine and cevimeline are medications that can be used to treat dry mouth syndrome. These medications can have some adverse side effects and are not recommended for patients with certain underlying diseases, so it is important to discuss your own situation with a physician before starting any of these medications.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  1. Should I be concerned about a more serious issue causing my dry mouth?
  2. Do I need blood work or a biopsy to rule out an autoimmune cause of my dry mouth?
  3. Could any of the medications that I am currently taking be causing the dry mouth?
  4. Do I need to see any other healthcare providers or specialists for my dry mouth?
  5. What treatment options are available to me for my dry mouth?

Nasopharyngeal cancer occurs most frequently in people from southern China, southeast Asia, and northern Africa, but does occur in the United States. The nasopharynx is the area located behind the nasal passages and above the throat.

This is where the adenoids are located, as well as the openings of the Eustachian tubes, which allow you to equalize the pressure in your ears. A small tumor in this location does not usually cause symptoms. As a result, most cases of nasopharyngeal cancer are not detected until the disease has already spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.

What Are the Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Symptoms of nasopharyngeal cancer may include:

  • Difficulty hearing through one ear and a sensation that the ear is clogged
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Nasal discharge or nosebleeds
  • Headache
  • Masses in the neck

What Causes Nasopharyngeal Cancer?

Nasopharyngeal cancer often stems from infection by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). However, only a very small percentage of people infected by EBV will develop nasopharyngeal cancer. There are genetic risk factors, such as Cantonese ethnicity, that make it much more likely. Heavy consumption of salt-preserved fish, low intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, and tobacco smoking all raise the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Early-stage nasopharyngeal cancer is treated with radiation alone, using a technique called intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which limits the amount of radiation received by nearby structures such as the salivary glands, the jaw muscles, and the brain. When the cancer is at a more advanced stage, but has not yet spread throughout the body, the standard treatment is to give chemotherapy and radiation at the same time. Patients at higher risk for treatment failure may benefit from receiving additional chemotherapy, either before or after concurrent chemoradiation.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  1. Does my ancestry and/or lifestyle put me at a greater risk for nasopharyngeal cancer?
  2. Should I have a blood test to screen for nasopharyngeal cancer?
  3. Do I need a tube in my eardrum (due to cancer blocking the Eustachian tube)?
  4. Am I a candidate for a clinical trial?

Burning mouth syndrome, also known as glossodynia, refers to pain or a hot, burning sensation in the mouth or oral cavity.

Patients usually experience it on the tongue, but some patients feel burning in multiple areas of the mouth, including the lips, top, or bottom of the mouth. As many as 15 percent of the population can experience symptoms at some point in their life, but less than one percent of patients report continuous burning symptoms. It is more common in females and in middle-aged or older patients. Typically, the oral cavity appears normal.

What Are the Symptoms of Burning Mouth Syndrome?

Patients with burning mouth syndrome may experience symptoms including:

  • Burning, painful sensation in the mouth (any location)
  • Often on both sides (bilateral)
  • Dry mouth (occasionally)
  • Taste changes (occasionally)
  • Tingling or numbness in the mouth (occasionally)

What Causes Burning Mouth Syndrome?

The cause of primary burning mouth syndrome is unknown but thought to be due to an issue with the nerves, called a neuropathy. There may be a hormonal link as almost 90 percent of patients are post-menopausal women. However, the exact link between estrogen and burning mouth syndrome is unknown. Patients with burning mouth syndrome are also more likely to have a psychiatric comorbidity, such as depression or anxiety, but this is not thought to be the cause of the disorder.

It is important to rule out other causes of mouth pain, such as thrush, vitamin deficiencies, medications, and growths or lesions. Some patients with burning in the mouth have a vitamin deficiency so your doctor may recommend lab work for certain vitamins, such as vitamin B, folate, iron, and zinc. Some blood pressure medications, antiretrovirals, and antidepressants can cause oral pain.

Other diseases like oral lichen planus and Sjogren’s disease, which are autoimmune diseases, may be confused with burning mouth syndrome. Uncontrolled diabetes, thyroid problems, and reflux may also worsen burning mouth sensations. It can also be caused by Ill-fitting dentures or teeth grinding. Oral allergies from foods, dental work, or oral care products can also cause burning in the mouth.

What Are the Treatment Options?

Treatment depends on whether a secondary cause is found. Thrush should be treated with antifungal medication, and any vitamin deficiency should be treated with vitamin supplementation. If a medication is suspected to be the cause, an alternative medication may be recommended. However, never stop a medication without consulting with your prescribing doctor first.

Your ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, may need to work with your primary care provider to treat any uncontrolled diabetes or thyroid issues. Switching oral care products can help some patients, and food avoidance may be recommended if a food allergy is suspected. Your doctor may recommend seeing a dentist to make sure there are no issues with dentures or teeth grinding. Reflux medications may be recommended. If dry mouth syndrome is the cause, there are many different treatment options.

Lifestyle changes can help alleviate some of the symptoms of burning mouth syndrome, such as reducing or eliminating alcohol and tobacco products. Certain foods such as spicy or acidic foods can make symptoms worse and should be avoided. Frequent sips of cold water can also help.

If no underlying cause is found, there are some medications that have been found to be effective. Clonazepam, which helps depress the nervous system, is often a “first-line” therapy. Antidepressants, such as paroxetine or sertraline, and gabapentin, a medication that also depresses the nervous system, are sometimes used for burning mouth syndrome. There is disagreement in medical literature if alpha-lipoic acid is beneficial for burning mouth syndrome, but some patients have found it to be beneficial. Certain topical medications such as anesthetics, anti-inflammatory medications, sucralfate, and capsaicin have been used with varying success in patients and may be recommend in certain patients.

Even though there is a hormonal link to burning mouth syndrome, hormone replacement therapy is usually not recommended. Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy has been shown to be very beneficial in patients with burning mouth syndrome. Your doctor may recommend a consultation with a psychiatrist in certain cases. Fortunately, data suggest that up to 50 percent of patients have some resolution of symptoms without any treatment within a few years of diagnosis.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

  1. Is there a secondary cause for my burning mouth?
  2. Will I need lab work?
  3. What treatment options are available for my situation?
  4. What are the risk and benefits of using medications to treat my burning mouth?
  5. Would you recommend cognitive behavior therapy or psychotherapy for my situation?