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Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is a condition in which the vocal cords spontaneously close, cutting off the air supply. It can often present like asthma, and some individuals can experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously.

Symptoms

Symptoms of VCD include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic coughing or throat clearing
  • Wheezing or stridor (high-pitched sound)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Upper chest or throat tightness
  • Intermittent hoarseness
Individuals may experience symptoms of VCD during exercise and while laughing or crying. Environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, cold air, strong aromas, and upper respiratory infections can trigger VCD. Health conditions such as heart burn, reflux, and post-nasal drip can also irritate the vocal chords and contribute to VCD.
 
VCD can often be mistaken for exercise-induced asthma but there are subtle differences in their symptoms.

VCD

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Symptoms occur shortly after beginning exercise Symptoms occur later in exercise
Tightness in throat Tightness in middle or lower chest
Difficulty inhaling Difficulty exhaling
Hoarseness N/A
Albuterol inhaler doesn’t control symptoms Albuterol inhaler controls symptoms
Symptoms recur immediately when resuming exercise after Albuterol treatment Symptoms are less severe when exercise is resumed after Albuterol treatment
Recovery time is less than 10 minutes Recovery takes up to an hour without medication

Treatment Options

Treatment options for VCD may include:
  • Reflux medications or dietary changes to reduce reflux
  • Use of nasal sprays or nasal washes for post-nasal drip
  • Speech therapy to learn breathing techniques to relax the vocal chords
  • If anxiety is a trigger, anxiety treatment may be helpful

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