Overview of VCD
Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) occurs when an individual’s vocal cords (voice box) do not open and close correctly. This disorder is also referred to as “paradoxical vocal fold movement”.
VCD is sometimes difficult to differentiate from asthma because some of the symptoms are similar.
In VCD, the vocal cord muscles tighten, which makes breathing difficult. In asthma, the airways (bronchial tubes) tighten, also making breathing difficult. Unlike asthma, VCD is not an allergic response starting in the immune system.
Many people with asthma also have VCD, which adds to the confusion. Although the two may have similar triggers and symptoms, the treatment approach for VCD is very different than treatments used to manage and control asthma. This makes proper diagnosis essential.
An allergist/immunologist has specialized training and experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of complex conditions such as asthma and VCD.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Symptoms of VCD can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat tightness
- Hoarse voice with possible voice changes
- Frequent throat clearing
VCD has similar triggers as asthma. Some of these triggers include breathing in lung irritants, exercising, cold weather, an upper or lower respiratory infection, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
Unlike asthma, VCD causes more difficulty breathing-in than breathing-out. The reverse is true for symptoms of asthma.
Diagnosing VCD can pose a challenge. A history of frequent throat clearing, voice hoarseness, sore throat, or acute onset of shortness of breath may be helpful to discuss with your allergist / immunologist. This may lead to further tests such as spirometry or laryngoscopy.
Spirometry is a breathing test that measures airflow. It typically measures various lung volumes while a patient makes forced expiratory and inspiratory maneuvers. A laryngoscopy involves looking at the vocal cords through a tiny camera attached to a thin, flexible tube. Vocal cords should be open when taking in a breath. In some people with VCD, the vocal cords partially close instead of opening.
Treatment & Management
Many people have both VCD and asthma. Yet, the treatment approach for each is different.
Treatment for VCD typically involves activities that relax the throat muscles including:
- Speech therapy
- Deep breathing techniques