Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD), also known as Paradoxical Vocal Fold Movement (PVFM) occurs when the vocal cords do not move or open properly. Sometimes, VCD can be confused with asthma because their symptoms and triggers are very similar. Symptoms of VCD can include shortness of breath, chronic cough, throat clearing, wheezing, loud whistling sound with breathing in, difficult getting a good breath in, frequent yawning, throat tightness, or hoarse voice. VCD can be triggered during stressful or anxious events, or with exercise. Triggers also include airborne dust, pollens and irritants, or colds and viruses. VCD can affect patients of all ages and conditioning level, and is commonly seen in elite athletes or runners. Acid reflux, seen with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and post nasal drainage seen with allergies or sinus disease, can also trigger VCD.
Diagnosing VCD can be a challenge. Often times we rely on the patient’s history, symptoms, and the timing of symptom onset. Sometimes, how a patient responds to different inhaled medications can be a clue. Spirometry, a test often used for asthma diagnosis and monitoring, can sometimes show features of vocal cord irritation. The most definitive way to diagnosis VCD is with laryngoscopy with visualization of the vocal cords.
Treatment for VCD depends on the underlying cause and is different for everyone. It involves treating the underlying cause and controlling triggers, as well as speech therapy or special breathing exercises to relax the throat muscles. The providers at AAAI can help determine if you have VCD or asthma (or both) and help find the right treatment program for you.