What Causes Spasmodic Dysphonia and Dystonia?
Spasmodic dysphonia is a voice disorder that affects the muscles in the laryngeal part of the neck. Dysphonia is usually caused by dystonia; dysphonia refers to an abnormality of the voice and dystonia refers to abnormal (involuntary) contractions of the muscles; therefore dysphonia is ultimately caused by dystonia. People suffering from spasmodic dysphonia often experience their voice breaking or cracking when they try to talk; they could also temporarily lose their voice. Dysphonia and dystonia are not so much diseases or conditions, but they are symptoms that cause loss of voice or difficulties with pitch and vocal output.
The medical community doesn’t know the exact root cause of dysphonia. Dysphonia occurs more in females; they are 4 times more likely to develop it than males. Medical researchers have not been able to identify the gene that causes this disorder. However, they have discovered that patients with dystonia have a leakage of nerve impulses between the laryngeal muscles and the brain. This leakage results in twitching of the muscles; the voice is affected until normal nerve conduction is restored. The dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions) can affect a single muscle or a large group of muscles. If a single muscle is affected, it is called focal dystonia. Thus, if a larger number of muscles are affected, it is called multifocal dystonia. Dystonia that affects the entire neck is called torticollis.
Symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia and dystonia
Symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia and dystonia often mimic other illnesses. In fact, prior to having spasmodic dysphonia, the patient may have had the flu, cold, pneumonia or some other lung or throat infection. There will be soreness of the throat, and the voice may be lost temporarily. The lower pitches are more likely to be lost.
Diagnosis and treatment of spasmodic dysphonia
There are no diagnostic tests to indicate a person has dysphonia; the doctor will diagnose the patient according to his/her physiological symptoms. An otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) and a neurologist will diagnose the presence of dystonia or dysphonia.
Treatment of dysphonia and dystonia is to relieve the symptoms, because it is unknown what actually causes dysphonia or dystonia. Speech therapy may help to train the vocal cords to improve vocal pitches and output.
Botox injections in the muscles may be a treatment option for some people. Botox causes the muscles in the larynx to weaken, so they are less likely to go into laryngeal spasm.
Not everyone is a candidate for Botox injections because there are some possible side effects. The side effects of Botox injections could cause difficulty swallowing and breathing difficulties. You and your doctor can discuss the possibility of using Botox to treat the symptom of dystonia. Being unable to use your voice can be very frustrating. People who have ongoing dysphonia may benefit from seeing a psychologist or a counselor to help maintain a good self-esteem.