May 10, 2019

Is it asthma? Maybe not…

General Health


Is it asthma, or Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD)?

During normal breathing, our vocal cords (folds) move apart, allowing air into the airway and into our lungs.  When we breathe out, the vocal cords (folds) come together, just as they do when we speak or cough.

Paradoxical Vocal Fold Motion (PVFM), also known as Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD), is a disorder in which the vocal cords come together when we try to inhale or take air into the lungs.  Not being able to breathe when we want to can be a scary thing, and often this gets diagnosed as asthma and inhalers are prescribed to open the airways.  Asthma is very different from VCD.  Asthma is caused by irritation and narrowing of airway passages in the chest.  Because VCD is so different from asthma, asthma medications often do not work in individuals with VCD.

The main symptoms of VCD include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the throat and/or chest
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing when inhaling (breathing in)
  • Chronic cough or throat clearing
  • Mild hoarseness

A few common triggers of VCD are:

  • Exercise
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn)
  • Common cold
  • Air pollution
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Cold air
  • Scents/perfumes/odors
  • Singing or laughing

Talk to your doctor about any of these symptoms you may be experiencing and what you feel may be causing them.  Your doctor may suggest a consultation with the following specialists in order to make an accurate diagnosis:  otolaryngologists, pulmonologists, speech-language pathologists, allergists, and/or psychologists.

The speech-language pathologists at Fort HealthCare are trained in treating VCD.  We can help you learn relaxed throat breathing to help manage it.  We can also make recommendations regarding your diet if you have been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux, which may be contributing to your VCD.  And lastly, we can help counsel you in order to help you understand and adjust to your new diagnosis and treatment plan.