Spasmodic Dysphonia

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Spasmodic dysphonia is a long-term voice problem that can make it hard to talk. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help.

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About Spasmodic Dysphonia

Your vocal folds are inside your larynx, or voice box. When you talk, air moves from your lungs through the vocal folds to your mouth. The vocal folds vibrate to produce sound. Anything that makes it harder for the vocal folds to vibrate can cause a voice problem.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a long-term, or chronic, voice disorder. With spasmodic dysphonia, or SD, your vocal folds do not move like they should. They spasm or tighten when you talk. Your voice may sound jerky, shaky, hoarse, or tight. You may have times when you cannot make any sounds at all. You may also have times when your voice sounds normal.

Signs of Spasmodic Dysphonia

SD can start slowly. You may only have voice trouble once in awhile. Over time, your voice problems will happen more often and get worse. Being tired or stressed may

make your voice worse. You may find that your voice problems go away when you sing or laugh. Your voice spasms may come and go during the day.

You may not have any signs of SD until you are between 30 and 50 years old. This is when it first shows up in most people who have SD. It is more common in women.

Causes of Spasmodic Dysphonia

Your nervous system may cause muscle tremors in your body. When these happen in your vocal folds, you can get SD. Dystonia, a brain disorder that makes your muscles tight, can lead to SD. In some cases, having a lot of stress in your life for a long time can cause SD. This is rare but happens in some people.

Your vocal folds will look normal and function well when you are not talking. However, when you bring your vocal folds together to talk, they will not move the way they should.

Testing for Spasmodic Dysphonia

There is no simple test for spasmodic dysphonia. It is best to be tested by a team that includes:

  • An SLP. The SLP will test how you use your voice and listen to how your voice sounds.
  • An otolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). The ENT can look at your vocal folds and how they move.
  • A neurologist, who looks for signs of brain problems that may lead to SD.

Treatments for Spasmodic Dysphonia

There is no cure for SD. However, there are some treatments that may help.

Your doctor may inject botulinum toxin, or Botox, into one or both vocal folds. Botox makes the muscles in your larynx weaker. This may lead to a smoother voice. Be sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects of Botox.

Voice therapy with an SLP may help you produce a better voice. You may see the SLP after you have had Botox or other medical treatments.

A psychologist may be able to help you learn to live with SD. You may want to work with a career counselor if your voice causes problems at work. You may find support and information from local self-help groups.

To find a speech-language pathologist near you, visit ProFind.

Other Resources

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