Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD)

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) or paradoxical vocal fold movement (PVFM) is an abnormal closure of the vocal cords (voice box) usually on inhalation. VCD has been frequently mistaken for asthma because the symptoms are similar. In asthma, the airways (bronchial tubes) tighten, making breathing difficult. With VCD, the vocal cord muscles tighten, which also makes breathing difficult. Common symptoms of VCD include a “struggle reaction” with inhalation, shortness of breath, chest or throat tightness, intermittent hoarseness, numbness or tingling in hands, feet or around the mouth during a breathing episode, chronic cough or wheezing. Unlike asthma, VCD is not an allergic response and causes more difficulty breathing in than breathing out. The reverse is true for symptoms of asthma. To add to the confusion, individuals can have either just VCD or a combination of asthma and VCD. Much like asthma, breathing in lung irritants, exercising, a cold or viral infection, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) may trigger symptoms of VCD. Although asthma and VCD have similar symptoms, the treatment approach for VCD is very different than used to manage and control asthma. This makes proper diagnosis essential. VCD is typically diagnosed by an otolaryngologist using laryngoscopy, which involves looking at the vocal cords through a camera attached to a flexible tube. The vocal cords should be open when taking in a breath. In some people with VCD, the vocal cords actually close instead of opening. A course of speech therapy, in addition to home practice exercises, is needed to learn techniques to prevent abnormal vocal cord closure. Treatment for VCD typically involves activities that relax the throat muscles. If you suffer from asthma, allergies or GERD, managing these conditions will help with treating VCD.

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