Spasmodic Dysphonia

During spasmodic dysphonia, the muscles in the larynx experience involuntary spasms, impeding on an individual’s ability to speak.

There are three types of spasmodic dysphonia:

  • Adductor spasmodic dysphonia – characterized by spasms that cause the vocal cords to collide together and stiffen
  • Abductor spasmodic dysphonia – caused by spasms that cause the vocal folds to open
  • Mixed spasmodic dysphonia – a combination of adductor and abductor spasmodic dysphonia

What Causes Spasmodic Dysphonia?

Although the cause of spasmodic dysphonia is unknown, it is believed to stem from an abnormality in the area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which helps coordinate the movement of muscles throughout the body.

What Symptoms are Associated With Spasmodic Dysphonia?

Symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia tend to occur gradually over time and with no clear reasoning. In some cases, patients who suffer from spasmodic dysphonia experience vocal tremor—which is shaking in the larynx that causes the voice to shake.

In other instances, the voice may sound:

  • Hoarse or wavery – commonly associated with adductor spasmodic dysphonia
  • Whisper-like or out of breath – generally found in patients with abductor spasmodic dysphonia

How is Spasmodic Dysphonia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing spasmodic dysphonia can be challenging, since its symptoms are similar to those of other voice disorders. Diagnosis usually occurs following an examination from:

  • An otolaryngologist – a doctor specializing in conditions associated with the ear, nose, head, throat and neck who can perform a fiberoptic nasolaryngoscopy, which evaluates the structural integrity of the larynx while speaking
  • A speech-language pathologist – a health professional who can identify symptoms in the voice
  • A neurologist – a doctor specializing in disorders associated with the nervous system who can evaluate for signs of dystonia in the brain

How is Spasmodic Dysphonia Treated?

Although there is currently no cure for spasmodic dysphonia, the otolaryngologists at Tampa General Hospital take a patient-first approach to treating the condition to help alleviate symptoms.

Treatment options include:

  • Botulinum toxin – A small dosage of the toxin is usually injected directly into the larynx every three to four months and is intended to weaken the effected muscles.
  • Behavioral voice therapy – These exercises can help treat patients with mild cases of spasmodic dysphonia and can be used in tandem with botulinum toxin injections.

Augmentative and assistive devices can help individuals suffering from spasmodic dysphonia to communicate in a more effortless manner. When more common approaches to treatment have failed, several surgical procedures may be performed on the larynx.