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Vocal Cord Dysfunction

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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 may experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously.

Vocal Cord Dysfunction Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of VCD include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic coughing or throat clearing
  • Wheezing or stridor (high-pitched sound) when breathing
  • 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 heartburn, reflux, and post-nasal drip can also irritate the vocal chords and contribute to VCD.

Differences between Vocal Cord Dysfunction and Asthma

VCD can often be mistaken for exercise-induced asthma, but there are subtle differences in the symptoms of the two diseases.

VCD

  • Symptoms occur shortly after beginning exercise
  • Tightness in throat
  • Difficulty inhaling
  • Hoarseness
  • Albuterol inhaler doesn’t control symptoms
  • Symptoms recur immediately when resuming exercise after Albuterol treatment
  • Recovery time is less than 10 minutes

Exercise-Induced Asthma

  • Symptoms occur later in exercise
  • Tightness in middle or lower chest
  • Difficulty exhaling
  • No hoarseness
  • Albuterol inhaler controls symptoms
  • Symptoms are less severe when exercise is resumed after Albuterol treatment
  • Recovery takes up to an hour without medication

Vocal Cord Dysfunction Treatment

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
The University of Pittsburgh - Athsma Institute home page
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