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Dysarthria vs Dysphonia: What’s the Difference?

Dysarthria vs Dysphonia

When it comes to speech disorders, dysarthria and dysphonia are two conditions that often lead to confusion due to their overlapping symptoms. However, it's crucial to distinguish between the two, as each affects speech in different ways and requires unique approaches for management and treatment.

In this comprehensive article, our experts at Better Speech will delve into the intricacies of both dysarthria and dysphonia. We'll explore their defining characteristics, underlying causes, and the early signs that can help in their identification.

In this article we will discuss:

How can you Distinguish Dysarthria vs. Dysphonia?

At first glance, dysarthria, and dysphonia might appear similar. However, a closer examination reveals key differences that are crucial for accurate diagnosis and treatment. Dysarthria is primarily a motor speech disorder, which emerges from impairments in the muscular control of speech. These impairments can affect the strength, speed, range, tone, and accuracy of the speech apparatus. As a result, speech may sound slurred, slow, and difficult to understand, often accompanied by changes in the rhythm and speed of speech.

In contrast, dysphonia is fundamentally a voice disorder, altering how the vocal cords produce sound. It's characterized by alterations in the pitch, volume, or quality of the voice. Causes of dysphonia are varied, ranging from vocal strain and misuse to more serious conditions like nerve damage or laryngeal diseases. The voice might sound hoarse, breathy, strained, or fatigued, and in severe cases, there might be a temporary loss of voice.

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What is Dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that emerges from neurological impairment. It hampers the physical ability to speak, affecting the muscles that produce speech. This condition leads to difficulty in articulating words, impacting the speed, volume, clarity, and rhythm of speech. For individuals with dysarthria, the simple act of speaking becomes a complex challenge.

Dysphonia treatment

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that emerges from neurological impairment. It hampers the physical ability to speak, impacting the muscles that produce speech. This condition leads to difficulty in articulating words, impacting the speed, volume, clarity, and rhythm of speech. For individuals with dysarthria, the simple act of speaking becomes a complex challenge.

What Causes Dysarthria?

What is Dysphonia

The roots of dysarthria lie in various neurological conditions. Common causes include stroke, brain injuries, degenerative diseases like Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. These conditions impair the brain's ability to control the speech muscles, leading to the symptoms observed in dysarthria.

What are the Symptoms of Dysarthria?

The symptoms of dysarthria vary widely based on the cause and severity of the muscle impairment. These symptoms primarily affect the clarity and effectiveness of speech:

  • Slurred or Slow Speech: This is often the most noticeable symptom, where speech sounds slurred or muddled. Words are not articulated clearly, making it hard for listeners to understand.

  • Difficulty Articulating Words: Individuals may struggle to pronounce words correctly. This difficulty is not due to a lack of language knowledge but rather the physical inability to move speech muscles accurately.

  • Abnormal Rhythm and Speed of Speech: Speech may be unusually fast or slow, lacking the normal rhythm and cadence of regular speech. It may seem either rushed or laboriously slow.

  • Changes in Voice Quality: This can manifest as a breathy, hoarse, or nasal voice. The tone and quality of the voice may fluctuate, often sounding different from the person's usual voice.

What is Dysphonia?

Dysphonia is a condition primarily affecting vocal production, characterized by changes in the voice quality, pitch, or volume. Unlike dysarthria, which impacts the articulation of speech, dysphonia is rooted in the function of the vocal cords and larynx. This condition can make the voice sound hoarse, breathy, strained, or weak, significantly impacting verbal communication. For individuals with dysphonia, using their voice, an action often taken for granted, can become a daily struggle.

What Causes Dysphonia?

The causes of dysphonia are diverse and often relate to issues with the vocal cords or larynx. Common causes include vocal strain or misuse, infections, allergies, acid reflux, hormonal changes, and neurological conditions. In some cases, dysphonia can also be the result of psychological stress. Unlike dysarthria, which stems from neurological impairment of speech muscles, dysphonia is more directly linked to the vocal cords and laryngeal function.

What are the Symptoms of Dysphonia?

The symptoms of dysphonia primarily affect the quality of the voice and can vary in severity. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial for a proper diagnosis of dysphonia and for determining the appropriate treatment approach, which may include voice therapy, medical treatments, or sometimes surgical interventions. These key symptoms include:

  • Hoarse Voice: A common symptom where the voice typically presents as rough, raspy, or strained. This vocal quality can make the speech seem harsh or grating to the listener.

  • Strained or Tight Voice: The act of speaking may require noticeable effort, resulting in a voice that sounds tense or constricted. This tension in the voice can make speech sound forced or unnatural.

  • Altered Pitch: Issues with pitch control may arise, leading to voice tones that are unusually high or low. This variability can disrupt the natural flow and melody of speech.

  • Volume Fluctuations: Speech may be affected by inconsistent volume control, producing speech that is either excessively soft or inordinately loud. Such fluctuations can affect the overall audibility and clarity of the spoken words.

How do you Treat Dysarthria vs Dysphonia?

Treating dysarthria and dysphonia requires an understanding of each condition's unique attributes. The treatment methods for these speech disorders are specialized, aiming to address their specific challenges and improve communication abilities.

Dysarthria Treatment:

  • Tailored Speech Therapy: This focuses on enhancing articulation and strengthening the muscles used in speech. Techniques may include exercises to improve breath support, muscle strength, and clarity of speech.

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices: For severe cases, AAC devices can help individuals communicate more effectively.

  • Adaptive Strategies: These include learning to speak slowly, using shorter sentences, or emphasizing certain syllables to improve speech clarity.

  • Physiotherapy: In some cases, physiotherapy can help improve muscle control and coordination.

Dysphonia Treatment:

  • Voice Therapy: This is the primary treatment for dysphonia, focusing on techniques to improve vocal cord function and voice quality. This may include exercises to regulate breath control, reduce strain, and optimize pitch.

  • Medical Treatment: For dysphonia caused by underlying medical issues like acid reflux or hormonal imbalances, addressing the medical condition can improve the voice disorder.

  • Surgical Interventions: In cases where vocal cord lesions or paralysis are involved, surgical options may be considered.

  • Lifestyle Modifications: These include recommendations like vocal rest, hydration, and avoiding irritants like smoking or shouting.

Both dysarthria and dysphonia benefit from a personalized treatment approach. Collaborating with speech-language pathologists and possibly other medical professionals, individuals can find strategies that best suit their specific needs and challenges. Early intervention and consistent therapy play key roles in managing these speech disorders effectively.

When Should you Seek Professional Help? 

If you're noticing ongoing speech difficulties, either in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to seek professional guidance. This is particularly crucial if these challenges significantly hinder everyday communication, affecting interactions at home, in social settings, or in the workplace. 

Speech disorders like dysarthria and dysphonia can also lead to emotional and psychological strain, manifesting as frustration, embarrassment, or withdrawal from conversation. In such cases, professional intervention is key.

At Better Speech, our team of experienced Speech-Language Pathologists specializes in assessing and treating a variety of speech disorders. If you’re unsure about the next step, get in touch with our experts to begin your journey to Better Speech!

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can Dysarthria and Dysphonia be cured?

The prognosis for these conditions depends on their underlying cause. Some cases of dysphonia resolve with appropriate treatment or voice rest. Dysarthria improvement depends on the severity of the neurological cause and the effectiveness of speech therapy. 

How Long Does Treatment for Dysarthria and Dysphonia Typically Last?

Can Children Develop Dysarthria or Dysphonia?

Is It Possible to Have Both Dysarthria and Dysphonia? 

How Does Speech Therapy Help with Dysarthria and Dysphonia? 


About the Author

Aycen Zambuto

Aycen Zambuto

I’m a seasoned educator in speech therapy with over six years of experience helping people navigate challenges in communication. Throughout this time, I’ve found joy in guiding individuals through a variety of therapeutic journeys, from toddlers with apraxia to seniors with dysphonia.

I’m passionate about demystifying this complex world of speech therapy and helping readers around the globe achieve clear and effective communication. When I’m not writing about speech, you’ll often find me reading, traveling or spending time with friends and family.



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