Spasmodic Dysphonia Diagnosis & Treatments : By Dr. De Leon

“The most precious things in speech are the pauses..” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Since September is National Dystonia Awareness Month, I thought I would talk about a symptom that affects many in our population known as spasmodic dysphonia (SD) This is a rare disorder of unknown etiology; it is a type of dystonia that affects the laryngeal muscles causing involuntary sustained muscle contraction of the vocal cords. There is a co –morbidity between SD and ET of 25% more than seen in normal population. People may have both essential tremors (ET) affecting vocal cords as well as dysphonia of laryngeal muscles. Furthermore, patients who exhibit this type of dystonia have a 7% risk of developing dystonia in another part of the body.

In order to obtain proper treatment one must first get correct diagnosis.

The person that diagnosis this condition can be an ENT physician as well as a neurologists. However, because there is a higher incidence of having other dystonia’s and /or tremors one usually also requires follow up and treatment by an MDS. It is important to note that SD, a type of focal dystonia, can be its own disease or be a symptom of another neurological disorders like generalized dystonia, ET, Parkinson’s and Maggie’s syndrome.

Since this s a voice disorder it causes impediments in speech and communication which can be both embarrassing and also socially devastating as when the dysphonia is so severe there is no perceptible voice. This lack or inability for one person to communicate with another verbally can lead to depression and social isolation. Hence, it is imperative to get diagnosed properly and seek right treatment as to not experience social stigma.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a lifelong condition commonly affecting women especially between the ages of 30-50. This disorder can lead to voice breaking, being tight or strained. This type of dystonia can interfere with word elocution to complete detriment and speech impediment if no audible sounds are made.

Researchers believe it may be due to problems in the basal ganglia hence associated with other movement disorders. However, it can start after a cold, flu, injury to voice box, trauma/surgery, and even stress.

There are two common types:

Adductor spasmodic dysphonia– this is the MOST COMMON type causing sudden involuntary spasms triggering the vocal cords to stiffen and slam shut. The spasms interfere with the vocal cord vibration hence diminishing the quality of sound. Speech sounds are strained and effortful. Of note; these do not occur when singing, laughing, speaking at high pitch, or speaking with breathing in.

Abductor spasmodic dysphonia-this type causes sudden spasm causing vocal cords to open and since vibrations cannot take place when vocal cords are apart sound is difficult. Speech is very weak, breathy, whispery, and quiet. Of Note: these do not occur with laughing or singing.

So how do you treat-

Botox is the mainstay of treatment although it is not a cure and works best for adductor dysphonia. Having a team of specialist as I mentioned above as well as a speech pathologists is of great benefit. However, voice therapy per say has limited use unless the dysphonia is due to a hyperfunctional behavior. There are also a couple of surgeries that have been investigated and still being evaluated for their efficacy. These are called thyroplasty (which essentially require remodeling of the thyroid cartilage shape to relax and move the vocal cords somewhat laterally (to the side).

However, if you are experiencing spasms and pain or difficulty singing, or at high pitch need to be evaluated by ENT and make sure there are no masses or inflammation caused by reflux. Sometimes asthma can cause whispery speech because of inability to take in air. May also require visit to pulmonologist.

As with everything else make note of when symptoms occur, what triggers it, what makes it better, how long they last, relation to food intake (some people are extremely sensitive to pumpkin, and pumpkin seeds, as well as peanuts), symptom relation to dopamine intake, if have PD.

Sometimes drinking warm teas (ginger with honey and lemon) helps ease and improve symptoms particularly if inflammation caused by irritation of vocal cords or virus. [This is my favorite remedy! works great plus ginger is good for digestive system.]

Recommendations to make speech better:

  • Avoid noisy environments- damages vocal cords – (also means talk only within your capabilities)- I have to remember this one because I always lose my voice in a crowded room.
  • Stay hydrated- especially if doing public speaking- I have to drink twice as much water when I speak!
  • Avoid irritants like alcohol, tobacco, substances that dry the throat.
  • Avoid screaming
  • Avoid clearing throat forcibly
  • Sleep well.
  • Treat TMJ

For more information: – National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association



all rights reserved- Maria De Leon



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