woman with Spasmodic Dysphonia learning from home on her computer

What Are the Symptoms of Spasmodic Dysphonia

What is Spasmodic Dysphonia?

Spasmodic dysphonia is a disorder of speech that alters the sound of one’s voice when speaking. In the case of spasmodic dysphonia, the muscles in the larynx (also known as the voicebox) constrict or spasm when we attempt to speak. This means that the vocal cords aren’t able to effectively vibrate, which makes producing normal speech sounds difficult. Spasmodic dysphonia is a long-term neurological speech disorder and is also sometimes referred to as spastic dysphonia or spastic vocal cords.

It is common for some people affected by this disorder to experience vocal changes every 2 or 3 sentences, and sometimes as frequently as every other word. In more severe cases, spasmodic dysphonia can make it difficult to be understood by others. A combination of treatments and therapies are available to help those with this disorder, which will help to suppress the symptoms and how they affect the individual’s daily life. Speech therapy is one of the most effective types of treatment for this disorder and can go a long way toward improving the individual’s quality of life. Get started on the path to clearer speech and increased confidence by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What are the Symptoms of Spasmodic Dysphonia?

In the majority of cases of spasmodic dysphonia, the symptoms appear gradually. It is common for symptoms to worsen at the onset of the disorder, and then they typically plateau after about 18 months. 

Individuals affected with spasmodic dysphonia may produce voices that sound:

  • Whispered or Breathy 
  • Jerky or Broken 
  • Hoarse or Strained
  • Simply sounding “Not right.”
  • Trembling or Shaky 
  • Strangled or Tight

Is Spasmodic Dysphonia Life Threatening?

Spasmodic dysphonia can result in issues that range from the difficulty of inability to say a single word, to not being able to speak at all. In these more severe cases, individuals will appear and sound like they are significantly ill. The good news is that spasmodic dysphonia is not life-threatening, and other than the struggles with speaking and vocalizing, the individuals with this disorder are generally healthy. 

What Causes Spasmodic Dysphonia?

The exact cause of spasmodic dysphonia is still unknown, but scientists believe that it is a neurological problem, and they continue to explore the possibility of a genetic link. 

While the cause isn’t known or understood at this point, scientists do have a good understanding of how spasmodic dysphonia occurs. In the case of this condition, the muscles in the voice box will spasm open or closed when trying to speak. These abnormal and involuntary movements make the vocal cords move abnormally as well, which affects the sound and production of the voice. These movements may come and go for no apparent reason, resulting in inconsistent vocal sounds and difficulty producing clear speech. Studies have shown a connection between periods of stress and increased instances of these spasms. If you or someone you love is struggling to communicate due to the symptoms of this disorder, help is available. Get started with Great Speech by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

Are There Different Types of Spasmodic Dysphonia?

There are 3 known kinds of spasmodic dysphonia. They are:

Adductor Spasmodic Dysphonia – This is the most common type of spasmodic dysphonia and results in sudden involuntary spasms that then cause the vocal cords to become stiff and close rapidly. These spasms result in interference with the vibration of the vocal cords and in producing various sounds. In many cases, stress can cause the spasms to become worse and speech sounds require a lot of effort and sound strained. Generally speaking, these spasms don’t occur when doing such things as whispering, laughing, singing, speaking at a loud volume, or speaking while inhaling.

Abductor Spasmodic Dysphonia – This is a less common type of spasmodic dysphonia and results in sudden involuntary spasms that cause the vocal cords to open. The vibration necessary for producing sound isn’t able to happen when the vocal cords are open. The open position of the vocal cords allows air to escape during speech. In this type of spasmodic dysphonia, speech sounds often sound weak, quiet, and breathy. As in adductor spasmodic dysphonia, these spasms do not occur when singing or laughing.

Mixed Spasmodic Dysphonia – This type of spasmodic dysphonia is exceptionally rare and is a combination of symptoms of both of the above types of dysphonia.

Did Rose Kennedy Have Spasmodic Dysphonia?

Spasmodic Dysphonia is a relatively rare disease but is somewhat recognizable due to its unique effect on the speaking voices of those affected. One of the most famous people living with spasmodic dysphonia is Robert Kennedy Jr, who has been outspoken about his disorder and has advocated for awareness and proper treatment of others affected by spasmodic dysphonia. While Robert Kennedy Jr.’s mother Rose Kennedy was never officially diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, the tone and quality of her voice sound similar to Robert Kennedy Jr. and others who have this disorder. 

Can Spasmodic Dysphonia Go Away?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for spasmodic dysphonia at this time. However, symptoms can be well-managed and minimized with appropriate treatment. In most cases, symptoms will return after several months and the individual will require ongoing treatment. 

How Do You Fix Spasmodic Dysphonia?

There are several different types of treatment that are effective at minimizing the symptoms and effects of spasmodic dysphonia. 

Oral Medications

At this time, there are no specific medications that have been approved by the FDA to treat symptoms related to SD. There are, however, some medications available that work to relax the smooth muscles needed for sound production which have been used with a limited degree of success. Some research has shown that small amounts of alcohol can actually help to minimize the symptoms of SD. On that same note, medications such as valium can also be beneficial, but most individuals find these types of medications to be too sedating and do not wish to continue using them for treatment. 

Botox Injections

A popular mode of treatment for spasmodic dysphonia is botox injections. This works because Botox weakens the muscles of the vocal cords, making it so that they are no longer able to spasm, which in turn allows the voice to sound more natural. 

Surgery 

Sometimes surgery is necessary when other forms of treatment have failed. The most common type of surgery that is performed for spasmodic dysphonia is referred to as the “denervation-reinnervation” procedure. In this procedure, the nerves that are responsible for involuntary and overactive muscle movements are cut and re-rerouted.

How Can Speech Therapy Help with Spasmodic Dysphonia?

Speech and Voice Therapy

Working closely with an experienced speech and language therapist is the best and least invasive mode of treatment for spasmodic dysphonia. A speech therapist who is knowledgeable about this disorder will coach the individual on how to adapt to the spasms while limiting the interruptions that occur when speaking. They will also instruct the individual on the behaviors required to produce a healthy voice and proper speech sound production. Speech therapy will help to decrease the need for other more invasive treatments and will empower the individual to take charge of their voice and breathing patterns. 

With the help of a speech and language pathologist, individuals can be instructed on how to use a great amount of airflow, or employ the use of a softer voice to decrease the severity of the spasms. In the majority of cases, speech and voice therapy is the preferred course of treatment over surgery. Speech therapy can teach those affected how to improve their muscle control and correct their breathing patterns, which can help them to speak more clearly and increase their confidence. Get started with one of our highly qualified speech therapists by scheduling your free introductory call today!