The Effects of Scleroderma on Voice and Swallowing

Some diseases are more well known than others for causing speech, language, or swallowing disorders. This week, SANY’s blog will discuss Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease so rare, general practitioners may see only one case a year. This rarity and unfamiliarity can result in many physicians overlooking the disorder when faced with it.

Scleroderma is characterized by fibrosis of the skin and internal organs. This fibrosis affects a range of organs including the mouth, vocal cords and larynx. When these areas are affected, a number of communication and swallowing difficulties can occur.

A patient with scleroderma will experience a hardening of tissue caused by an overproduction of collagen, a protein produced by the connective tissue cells of the skin. When collagen occurs in excess, it can cause stiffness and scarring of the skin and internal organs. When this process occurs in the vocal chords, the patient will experience hoarseness and other vocal issues. The muscles that control the vocal chords can also become inflamed, resulting in less control and reduced vocal quality. Patients who experience these symptoms are often referred to a speech-language pathologist who can help them manage their vocal quality and projection through speech-language therapy focusing on the voice.

Scleroderma can also cause swallowing disorders. The salivary glands of the mouth often become scarred, leaving the patient unable to produce saliva properly. As a result, the patient may experience severe dry mouth which causes difficulties in swallowing. A speech-language pathologist specializing in swallowing disorders can help pinpoint the exact type of swallowing issues the patient is having, as well as recommend food textures and swallowing techniques that may assist the patient.

For more information on this disorder, visit the Scleroderma Foundation at http://www.scleroderma.org/

 If you or a loved one are experiencing a communication disorder, contact Speech Associates of New York today to find a professional speech-language pathologist who can help you communicate to your fullest. Remember, early intervention is the key to maintaining and developing strong communication skills.

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