A voice disorder caused by involuntary spasmodic movements of the muscles in the neck is defined medically as spasmodic dysphonia; another name for it is laryngeal dystonia. While dysphonia indicates abnormality in voice, dystonia indicates abnormality in muscle contractions. The condition could be compared with writers’ cramps, which occur due to involuntary twitching and contraction of the wrist muscles. In dysphonia, there are involuntary contractions of the larynx (voice box) muscles. These involuntary contractions cause speech difficulties; people suffering from spasmodic dysphonia often have a difficult time communicating with other people. In spasmodic dysphonia, the voice seems to crack or break. The individual may speak in a breathy manner when struggling to say a few words. A person suffering from this form of dystonia may also suffer from a temporary loss of his/her voice.
What causes spasmodic dysphonia?
Researchers in the field of medicine are still not able to establish the root causes and origin of the dysphonia related illness. It is observed to affect females of the population four times more commonly than males. The exact reasons are still an enigma even to modern scientific analysis. Recent studies in the field of otolaryngology (medical specialty dealing with the nose, throat and ear) could not identify the exact gene that triggers dysphonia. However, historical case studies suggest that certain genetic disorders could be some causative factors behind the condition.
Examinations conducted on various patients suffering from the disease pinpoint the exact nature of dystonia. Investigative researchers have discovered there is often a leakage of nerve signals (neuro-transmission) at the feedback-loop in the link between the voice box muscles and the brain. This leakage of nerve signals results in the involuntary contractions and twitching. When the voice box muscles do not respond to the signals given to create speech or to create a sound vibration, the voice is lost until proper nerve conduction resumes. These involuntary muscle contractions could just affect a small area, or a single muscle classified as focal dystonia. The disorder could also involve larger area including a number of muscles, like in the case of torticollis, where the entire neck region is affected.
What are the symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia?
The symptoms of dystonia or dysphonia might mimic other illnesses. There might even be a throat or lung infection, like pneumonia, or common flu and cold, cough to start with. There will be a stinging sensation in the throat. Words will be lost, particularly the lower pitched ones. There will be bouts of spasm in the voice box muscles.
How is spasmodic dysphonia diagnosed?
Diagnosis is based on the physiological symptoms exhibited by the patient; there are no laboratory tests that can establish spasmodic dysphonia. A specialist dealing with speech-therapy, along with an otolaryngologist (doctor specializing in nose, ear and throat diseases) and a neurologist (doctor specializing in nerve disorders) can declare the onset of the dystonia or dysphonia.
How is spasmodic dysphonia treated?
Because the exact condition that triggers the onset of muscle contractions of the voice box resulting in spasmodic dysphonia is not known, the treatment of this disorder is directed toward symptomatic relief. Training the vocal cords for producing sounds at a different pitch will improve the vocal output.
Some specialists recommend Botox therapy. Botox is a short term for the toxin called Botulinum toxin. Injecting small quantities of Botox causes the muscles to weaken, thus the Botox indirectly relieves the spasms of the vocal cords and muscles of the larynx.
There are possible side effects that go along with Botox treatments for spasmodic dysphonia. An individual could suffer from breathing difficulties and lose the ability to swallow. The patient and the doctor will have to decide if the risk of using Botox to treat this disorder is worth the advantage of getting the voice back to normal levels.
If you suffer from spasmodic dysphonia, your specialist may also suggest that you seek counseling from a psychologist. Counseling can help a person with this disorder to maintain self-confidence, and speech therapy can help the patient to learn new behaviors to retrain the voice box to create sounds. With practice, and self-help therapy associated with counseling, speech difficulties should be overcome.