Vocal Cord Dysfunction

What is Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

Founded deep in the throat is your voice box or the larynx. Usually when a person breathes in air, the vocal cords open which allows the progression of air to the lungs and windpipe and when exhalation occurs, the vocal cords open and release the air out of the lungs.

The opposite thing happens with vocal cord dysfunction since the vocal cords closes instead of opening up when a person inhales and exhales air, making it a lot more difficult to get air in and out of the lungs due to the unusual behavior of the vocal cords. This type of disorder is also pertained as paradoxical vocal fold motion.

Asthma is often mistaken as vocal cord dysfunction and vice versa. It is because both of its symptoms have similarities and to add up to the uncertainty, a lot of people who have asthma also have vocal cord dysfunction. Asthma is a disease which involves the airways or the bronchial tubes found in the lungs wherein these tubes are always inflamed and it tightens even more when triggered.

Unlike asthma, vocal cord dysfunction causes more complication inhaling than exhaling air, while the other way round goes for the symptoms of asthma. Another aspect to differ vocal cord dysfunction with asthma is that, if the person has asthma, medicament drugs that open the breathing tubes will right away improve the person’s breathing; but if that person has a vocal cord dysfunction alone, the bronchodilators will not take its effect.

vocal cord dysfunction


Vocal cord dysfunction does not occur when the person is sleeping. It usually happen when the person is wide awake and doing some daily routines or other activities. Diagnosing vocal cord dysfunction can be very provocative. When discussing with the allergist or immunologist, the backstory of breathing problems, having a strained voice or changing of the voice is also significant for further diagnosis by the physician. Further tests may be performed after an assessment and it will either be spirometry or laryngoscopy. Here are some common signs and symptoms of the disease:

  • Breathing strenuously because of the heavy feeling of getting air in and out of the lungs.
  • Coughing repeatedly.
  • Wheezing in which the person breathes with a rattling sound in the chest resulting to the blockage of the air passages.
  • The chest or the throat tightens that causes a bit pain.
  • Frequent clearing of the throat.
  • A harsh or strained voice.
  • The usual voice somehow changes.
  • A feeling of suffocating or choking.
  • The person frequently has refractory asthma in which the person poorly responses to inhaled corticosteroids or beta-agonists.

What causes Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

There are many probable causes of vocal cord dysfunction. It may be caused by:

  • Upper respiratory infection also referred to as the common cold.
  • Strong odors
  • Fumes of the tobacco
  • Excessive mucus dripping down at the back of the throat which is produced by nasal mucosa.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
  • Exercising
  • Being too emotional
  • Stress

How is Vocal Cord Dysfunction treated?

Although the symptoms of vocal cord dysfunction are much similar with asthma, the treatment for vocal cord dysfunction is very different to how asthma is treated. Proper diagnosis by a physician is significant. An attack of vocal cord dysfunction can be dreadful so the person should not wait for this state to happen because if the condition is left untreated, the dreadful attack may necessitate for emergency room treatment.

Vocal cord dysfunction treatment differs from other breathing problems because pharmaceuticals are not the main solution to prevent it. Instead, treatments require typical activities that can help relax the muscles in the throat which include:

  • The first treatment is speech therapy in order to teach the patient breathing exercises and techniques to aid the vocal cords. Learning speech therapy takes time and personal determination since the patient needs to practice it even if the disease isn’t present in order to control the symptoms before it turns worse.
  • Second one will be psychotherapy. The psychiatrist’s role is to execute general psychotherapy.
  • Next is the helium-oxygen therapy for emergent treatment of vocal cord dysfunction consists of heliox that reduces the disturbance in the airway.
  • Anticholinergic agent is also helpful and effective to patients receiving it with inhaled ipratropium.
  • Quick breaths to relax the vocal cords.
  • Topical lidocaine
  • Managing stressors should be grasped so that the disease isn’t triggered.
  • If vocal cord dysfunction is caused by GERD then consulting a physician and asking what to do is a must.

Experiencing vocal cord dysfunction may come in handy but with the proper self-motivation to perform the exercises and reducing stressors will keep VCD away. The individual in this situation may think that it’s only asthma, when in fact it’s already vocal cord dysfunction. Always be careful in determining the difference but if there’s uncertainty, consult the physician right away.


    • VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION (VCD) – Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment & management at http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/related-conditions/vocal-cord-dysfunction.aspx
    • Vocal Cord Dysfunction -> Overview, Presentation, DDx, Workup, Treatment, Medication, Follow-up at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/137782-treatment. Author: Praveen Buddiga, MD; Chief Editor: Michael A Kaliner, MD
    • Vocal Cord Dysfunction -> Common signs and symptoms, causes, treatment at http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/head-neck/diseases-conditions/vocal-cord-dysfunction
    • Guglani L, Atkinson S, Hosanagar A, Guglani L (August 2014). “A systematic review of psychological interventions for adult and pediatric patients with VCD”. Front Pediatr 2: 82.
    • Weiss P, Rundell KW (Nov 2009). “Imitators of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction”. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol 5 (1): 7.
    • Ibrahim WH, Gheriani HA, Almohamed AA, Raza T (Mar 2007). “Paradoxical vocal cord motion disorder: past, present and future”. Postgrad Med J 83 (977): 164–172.

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