Encyclopedia / D / Dysphonia



Voice disorders characterized by hoarseness, weakness or even loss of voice are called dysphonia.


Your voice box or larynx is a framework of cartilage containing vocal cords. These structures vibrate to produce the sound of your voice.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a voice disorder characterized by intermittent, involuntary tightening or constriction of the larynx (voice box) during phonation. The interruption of air flow results in staccato, jerking, labored speech. Occasionally, vocal spasms can abduct or separate the vocal folds resulting in breathy voice breaks (abductor spasmodic dysphonia).


Overuse, emotional stress, trauma and illness can cause chronic spasm, weakness, or scarring of the vocal cords. Sometimes trouble stems from paralysis that damages nerves that move the vocal cords. The injury interferes with the smooth passage of air over the cords, making voice production less efficient and altering the sound produced.

Chronic dysphonia can occur in people such as teachers who use their voices a lot, and in people who have experienced trauma or surgery that affects the larynx. It can also start out as a virus that causes chronic laryngitis. In some cases, gastroesophageal reflux can cause chronic hoarseness.


Some voice changes can signal disorders such as vocal cord polyps or the onset of cancer or other diseases, so that it is important to pinpoint the source of the problem promptly. To do so, the physician can refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist who can perform a diagnostic procedure called indirect or direct laryngoscopy, or video-laryngoscopy.


Conservative treatment includes avoiding vigorous use of the voice (singing, shouting) and throat lozenges. Acute laryngitis from a virus should resolve on its own. Acute laryngitis from a bacteria may be improved with an antibiotic. In gastroesophageal reflux disease, treatment with an acid blocker may be effective. Some cases of dysphonia can require surgical intervention.


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