Primary odynophonia: When pain is out of proportion to dysphonia

Se-in Kim, Cory Atkinson, Amy Hamilton Harris, Kathleen Tibbetts, Ted Mau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: Odynophonia is generally regarded as a symptom of a voice disorder. However, a subset of patients with odynophonia have debilitating pain out of proportion to the relatively mild degree of dysphonia and are not responsive to voice therapy. The goals of this study were to 1) describe the symptomatology of this subset of patients and differentiate it from typical odynophonia, 2) propose alternate models to explain this phenomenon of primary odynophonia, and 3) present a new treatment paradigm based on the proposed models. Study Design: Case series. Methods: Inclusion criteria were complaint of persistent pain associated with voicing, normal vocal fold mobility, complete glottic closure, and limited or lack of response of pain to voice therapy. Presenting symptoms, voice evaluation, and treatment outcomes were reviewed. Results: Eleven patients fit the inclusion criteria. The degree of pain did not follow the trajectory of vocal improvement with therapy. The pain was stagnant or worsened with voice exercises. The most dramatic improvement came about in one patient who received false vocal fold Botox injections, and another who received thyrohyoid lidocaine/triamcinolone injection. We propose that these patients had developed primary odynophonia, in which the pain had become self-sustaining and no longer responded to correction of hyperfunctional vocal behavior. The mechanism of pain persistence may involve superior laryngeal neuralgia, cartilaginous or ligamentous inflammation, and/or central sensitization. Conclusions: A minority of patients have primary odynophonia distinct from typical odynophonia. Direct treatment of pain may be advisable prior to or in conjunction with voice therapy. Level of Evidence: 4. Laryngoscope, 2019.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • muscle tension dysphonia
  • Odynophonia
  • painful talking
  • painful voice
  • superior laryngeal neuralgia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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