What is Muteness?

Muteness is also called mutism. Both words mean the same thing – the inability to speak. The old word for muteness was dumb but that word has fallen out of favor today. However, many older medical books, doctors and even contemporary songs mention a person being unable to talk as “dumb.”

There are many physical and psychological causes for muteness. Anyone can become mute, or a person who cannot speak. Children seem particularly vulnerable to mutism for unknown reasons. Some people who are mute are still able to make sounds but are not able to form coherent words and sentences.

What are the Symptoms of Muteness?

Although there are many types of mutism, they all have the one same symptom – the patient cannot talk. The patient may not be able to talk under any circumstance or the patient may be able to talk only when relaxed and happy.

There can be other symptoms depending on the individual and the cause of his or her mutism. Children suffering from selective mutism, for example, may become anxious and incontinent when they try to speak in public.

Muteness Causes

Muteness is more frequently recognized as mutism – it is an inefficiency to communicate caused by health conditions like anxiety, hearing loss or surgery. One type of muteness is selective mutism, and it appears in childhood, in some cases, it continues into adulthood, leading to an inability to talk by choice in specific situations prompted by anxiety.

Mutism can be congenital or it can result from an injury to the brain. Congenital mutism is linked to the genetics of one deaf parent being the carrier of a recessive or dominant trait. The abnormality interferes with the development of the hearing organ, preventing the development of speech in the child.

Akinetic mutism is connected to health disorders interrupting the brain’s frontal lobe functions, rendering the individual speechless or some level of restricted response. A chronic neurological illness like pseudobulbar palsy could trigger this form of muteness. Similar reactions of muteness occur with illnesses like Alzheimer, Pick’s or Parkinson’s developing a loss of intelligible controlled speech.

Elective mutism cases show a relationship with muteness, linked to traumatic events or injuries of the throat or mouth.

How is Muteness Treated?

Muteness is often treatable and curable depending on the cause of the individual patience’s silence. Patients who are mute for psychological reasons need therapy and even different forms of therapy in order to help encourage them to talk once more or to talk in public places.

Muteness caused by physical problems is much more complex. A person born deaf has great difficulty learning to talk because he or she cannot hear if any mistakes are made. People born deaf can still learn to talk with lots of practice and the help of a speech therapist. Many mutes learn alternative forms of communication such as American Sign Language.

Patients mute because of throat cancer or injuries that need their larynx or voice box removed can use an artificial voice box machine to speak again, albeit in a robotic monotone. There have been successful larynx transplants in the United States, but this is still a relatively new kind of surgery and may be impractical for many patients right now.

Muteness Prevention

Some conditions of muteness or mutism are curable; most need specialized treatments and therapy interventions. If you are dealing with speech complications, you need to talk with your doctor to identify the underlying cause of your condition.

If you or your child has been born with congenital mutism, you need to talk with a specialist and learn as much as you can about your family’s medical history. The more you understand the condition, the better prepared you will be to discuss your child’s struggles.

Certain lifestyle choices like healthy diets and physical activity keep the brain strong and working; preventing some medical disorders. Psychiatric conditions need regular visits to your doctor for professional assessments.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
March 09, 2018