November 03, 2012

Nasal Sounding Speech

There are actually TWO different flavors of nasal sounding speech.

HYPO-nasal speech is due to reduced or no nasal airflow and HYPER-nasal speech due to too much nasal airflow.

HYPO-nasal speech is by far the most common cause of nasal-sounding speech. It is similar to how a person would sound if they pinched their nose shut while talking. As such, ANY anatomic nasal obstruction would by definition lead to such hypo-nasal speech. Treatment, obviously, is to remove this anatomic nasal obstruction whatever it may be either with medications or surgery. Examples of hypo-nasal speech causes include:

HYPER-nasal speech itself has several different flavors, but the key concept is the presence of an opening between the mouth and nose when it should be sealed shut during speech. Normally, complete closure should occur with certain sounds like /s/, /sh/, /b/, and /p/. Such sounds are called plosives and sibilants. This link provides a cartoon animation of how each sound in the English language is produced from an anatomical standpoint.

Now what are some of the causes of HYPER-nasal speech? Causes can be divided broadly into either anatomic and functional variants.

Anatomic HYPER-nasal speech include:
  • Cleft Palate
  • Palate Fistula
  • Submucus Cleft

Functional HYPER-nasal speech include:
  • Velopharyngeal insufficiency without anatomic cause. Velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI occurs when the soft palate does not seal against the back of the mouth during appropriate speech sounds.
  • Poor articulation (person is not correctly pronouncing words)

Treatment of HYPER-nasal speech may include speech therapy and surgery depending on the cause.

Given the subtleties involved in differentiating the different causes of nasal speech, workup typically involves not only just looking in the nose or mouth, but also performing a nasal endoscopic examination.

Below is a video showing a young child undergoing just such an endoscopic exam. Here are some other videos containing audio of abnormal endoscopic exams.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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