More than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, including as many as one million Americans — more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease.*
For the millions whose lives are touched by Parkinson’s, there is great relief to learn of treatments that can help decrease the severity of the disease’s symptoms – especially everyday functions like speaking and swallowing.
In this post, we want to talk about the advancements in the field of laryngology and how Laryngologists can help patients suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and MS.
Understanding Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder causing the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in the brain.
Parkinson’s effects the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination, and because the disease is degenerative, the symptoms continue and worsen over time (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation).
Parkinson’s and The Throat
One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is the loss of control of the throat and mouth muscles that help us swallow. Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, can occur at any stage of Parkinson’s and can be accompanied by problems swallowing solid foods or liquids, chronic coughing or throat clearing.
As the disease progresses and dysphagia become more severe, the inability to control the muscles in the mouth or throat can lead to food or liquid getting into the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, which is also the leading cause of death in PD.*
Because problems swallowing can become more difficult to treat as the disease progresses, it is important to talk to a Laryngologist as soon as symptoms start to show. Early intervention and a treatment plan with a speech pathologist and specialist surgeon can help decrease symptoms and improve the quality of life
Parkinson’s and The Voice
Our ability to speak is a part of our daily lives that we can’t really appreciate until it’s gone. Unfortunately, losing vocal power and the ability to communicate are something that patients with degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s eventually face.
Someone with PD might find themselves speaking softly, slurring words, mumbling, speaking in monotone, experiencing hoarseness, having difficulty forming sounds clearly or even finding it difficult to find the words they are looking for.
And just as PD affects the voice, the disease can take a toll on the muscles that control our facial expressions – another important part of daily communication. Patients with Parkinson’s, MS, or ALS may feel as if they are wearing a mask, meaning that their face and facial expressions feel frozen and they have a much harder time using their facial muscles to express what they are saying.
How much difficulty a person has with their speech and facial expression can vary depending on how far the disease has progressed or simply on the patient. Luckily, this too is something that can be helped with treatment and therapy. As soon as any of the symptoms mentioned above present themselves, get to a Laryngologist or speech language pathologist as soon as you can – they can help with valuable treatment and therapy plans.
Primary Care & Neurology
There is unfortunately still no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but some of the symptoms of the disease can be helped with treatment, like the function of the voice and throat – something that eventually affects all patients with Parkinson’s, ALS or MS.
For patients in Colorado:
*Laryngology is the branch of medicine that deals with the larynx and its diseases.
*Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, http://www.PDF.org
*The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, “Swallowing and Parkinson’s Disease”, Foxfeed Blog, https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/news-detail.php?swallowing-and-parkinson-disease