Parkinson’s Disease and the Voice

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.


Parkinson’s disease, and neurological degeneration in general, is an area where laryngology* has developed new and exciting techniques to help patients. Doctors like Dr. David Opperman of the Colorado Voice Clinic in Denver, Colorado are now able to augment the curvature of vocal folds and improve vocal power and swallowing in-clinic, without putting the patient to sleep, and with minimal discomfort.
When coupled with speech therapy, patients can be heard again and have a much improved quality of life. The benefits can be also be observed with patients suffering from voice and swallowing issues associated with MS and ALS.
For cases following a possible weakness in a vocal cord, a trained Laryngologist can check the vocal fold position pre-operatively, determine which side is weak to determine the best surgical approach, and be available for and assist with intubation, pre-operative tracheostomy if necessary, and then help in recovery of the patient after surgery.
Contact a Laryngologist or speech language pathologist to talk about a treatment plan and options best suited for your case. 

For patients in Colorado:

Dr. David Opperman of the Colorado Voice Clinic is available to diagnose and treat patients suffering with neurodegenerative diseases to improve patients lives.
Dr. Opperman has been pioneering the treatment of Parkinson’s associated voice and swallowing issues at the Colorado Voice Clinic since 2007. A leader in his field, Dr. Opperman uses state of the art VF filler injections and has been doing so for the past eight years.
About Dr. Opperman
Dr. Opperman received a Fellowship in Laryngology and Disorders of the Voice at UCLA in Los Angeles where he studied under the direction of Gerald Berke, M.D. and performed research in laryngology, neurolaryngology and care of the professional voice. He trained under George L. Adams at the University of Minnesota where he received his Master of Science in otolaryngology and received his Doctor of Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. A presenter, author, and recognized expert in the field of voice care and repair, you can receive no finer treatment for the professional voice than at the Colorado Voice Clinic.

*Laryngology is the branch of medicine that deals with the larynx and its diseases.

*Parkinson’s Disease Foundation,

*The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, “Swallowing and Parkinson’s Disease”, Foxfeed Blog,


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