Speaking of Botox: A Treatment for Voice Disorders?

by Edie Pastis

When naming celebrity Botox® users, the list usually doesn't include National Public Radio host Diane Rehm, Dilbert creator Scott Adams, best-selling mystery writer Martha Grimes, or Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Fact is, all four are admitted Botox® patients; only their injections are for speech difficulties rather than for wrinkles.

Breaking Down Spasmodic Dysphonia

Most of us are familiar with Botox's reputation as an effective anti-aging treatment in the cosmetic industry, but as a treatment for voice therapy? In recent years, studies conducted on the voice disorder called Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD) showed dramatic improvements after trials where the botulinum toxin was injected into the larynx of SD patients. Since then, Botox injections have become a source of hope and relief for SD patients by enabling them to communicate with ease.

Spasmodic Dysphonia is a neurological voice disorder also known as “strangled voice,” and it creates difficulty speaking due to involuntary spasming of the vocal cords. Largely ignored or misdiagnosed for almost a century, SD is estimated to affect close to 50,000 people in the U.S. today, and typically develops during adulthood. In addition to causing embarrassment and discomfort, SD often creates huge problems for sufferers at work and in their social lives.

Let's Talk Treatments

Botox® is currently the nation's top-grossing, non-surgical cosmetic procedure, but it's also become the most popular method for treating SD. Oral medications such as anticholinergics or benzodiazepines seem to provide little relief, and surgical procedures to improve SD are still relatively new. Botox® injections, however, have proven highly effective and require very short recovery times. Botulinum toxin injections relax the muscles of the larynx and prevent nerves from stimulating vocal cords, thus greatly improving speech capabilities. While the results can vary between patients, some Botox® users have reported effects lasting up to six months after treatment.

Hollywood celebrities such as Virginia Madsen use Botox to maintain their looks for a confident self-image and for opportunities in their on-screen career. Similarly, Diane Rehm and Robert Kennedy Jr. began Botox® treatments to maintain oratory skills that were essential to their livelihood. How ironic that Botox®, a treatment often giving people something to talk about, is now giving people back the ability to speak.

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