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What You Should Know About Spasmodic Dysphonia

Spasmodic dysphonia is a common neurological disorder that affects a person’s voice and speech. It’s caused by involuntary contractions of the vocal cord muscles (collectively known as the voice box). These contractions create speech interruptions and often make the voice sound raspy, breathy, or whispery.

In some cases, the condition is temporary and can be improved with treatment. However, for most patients, spasmodic dysphonia is a lifelong condition that causes the voice to enter periods of spasm.

The condition commonly develops when an adult reaches middle age. While both men and women can be affected, women are at greater risk of developing the condition. In this blog, we’ll provide a closer look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment of spasmodic dysphonia.

1. What Causes Spasmodic Dysphonia?

When a person speaks, air from the lungs is pushed between the vocal folds, resulting in vibration and voice production. If you have spasmodic dysphonia, the muscles inside your vocal folds will spasm, i.e., make sudden, unexpected, and involuntary movements.

These movements interfere with vocal fold vibrations. As a result, the voice breaks when a person speaks. It also sounds tight and strained.

Spasmodic dysphonia is caused by improper functioning in a portion of the brain known as the basal ganglia. These abnormalities affect muscle movement coordination. Spasmodic dysphonia is often genetic. While a specific gene for the condition has not been identified yet, a genetic mutation that causes different forms of dystonia has been linked to spasmodic dysphonia.

2. What Are the Symptoms?

an ENT specialist examines a man’s throat using a tongue depressor

Spasmodic dysphonia causes breaks/interruptions in speech. In most cases, this happens every couple of sentences. Adductor dysphonia, a type of spasmodic dysphonia, causes a hoarse, grating, strangled voice. In some cases, it becomes difficult to understand what the person is trying to say; their enunciation is affected.

3. How Can I Treat Spasmodic Dysphonia?

There is no cure for this condition. However, patients can gain relief from their symptoms through various treatments. The first step is to find an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) who’s right for you. Their recommendations may include speech/voice therapy, psychological counseling, and injections. When small amounts of botulinum toxin are injected directly into the affected muscles of the larynx, the nerve impulse to the muscle is blocked. As a result, the voice can improve for a few months.

Reinjections help maintain a good speaking voice. Speech/voice therapy is often used alongside botulinum toxin injections to reduce voice strain. Psychological counseling further helps patients develop emotional strength, accept their condition, and embrace it. Assistive devices are also used to enhance communication. Certain computer software and apps can be used to amplify the voice in person and over the phone.

If you think you have developed spasmodic dysphonia, an ENT at Houston Physicians’ Hospital can help you with diagnosis and treatment and possibly refer you to a speech pathologist. Working together, they can determine the right treatment plan for you.

At Houston Physicians’ Hospital, we diagnose and treat spasmodic dysphonia using advanced techniques. Visit our ENT webpage to learn more and scroll down the page to Find an ENT specialist who’s right for you. We also treat a range of other conditions, including back pain treatments Webster TX, neck pain, Knee Pain Treatment Houston, and bruised hip bone, among other injuries, disorders, and symptoms. Our services are available to patients in Houston, Webster, Clear Lake, Friendswood, and the surrounding areas.