vocal cord dysfunction
Symptoms of vocal cord dysfunction include feelings of choking, difficulty breathing, a tightening sensation in the throat, and the urge to cough.

Vocal cord dysfunction is a condition in which your vocal cords do not open correctly during breathing. This condition goes by various names, including:

  • Laryngeal dysfunction
  • Paradoxical vocal cord movement disorder
  • Paradoxical vocal fold motion

Normally, your vocal cords open when you breathe in. When they do not, you develop signs and symptoms such as:

  • Feeling that you are choking
  • The feeling of a lump in the neck
  • Tightening sensation in the throat and chest
  • Typical noise (stridor) during inhalation
  • The urge to cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness of voice

You may feel that you have asthma when you are affected by vocal cord dysfunction. However, while asthma and vocal cord dysfunction share similar symptoms, the difference is in how each one responds to treatment. For example, the bronchodilators used in the treatment of asthma can improve breathing but fail to show any effect on vocal cord dysfunction.

What causes vocal cord dysfunction?

Researchers are unsure about what exactly causes vocal cord dysfunction, although it is often seen in patients that have very sensitive or over-reactive airways.

Vocal cord dysfunction is a chronic condition that comes in episodes, which are triggered by factors such as:

How is vocal cord dysfunction diagnosed?

The diagnosis of vocal cord dysfunction will typically involve tests that help your doctor rule out other conditions, such as asthma, and may include:

  • Flow-volume loop: This test is performed while you are resting or exercising, and helps view the airflow in the lungs to determine whether there is any blockage that is causing your symptoms.
  • Laryngoscopy: In this procedure, the doctor will pass a small, flexible tube with an attached camera through the nose. They will ask you to speak or breathe to observe your vocal cord movement.

How is vocal cord dysfunction treated?

Currently, there is no cure for vocal cord dysfunction. However, treatment is geared towards relieving symptoms. Additionally, avoiding triggers can help manage the condition.

Treatment of vocal cord dysfunction is different during the episode and after the episode. For instance, while treatment between the attacks aims to control the episodes, treatment during the attacks involves emergency management of the condition to get the symptoms under control.

During an episode, the treatment includes:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Heliox (a combination of helium or oxygen for inhalation)
  • Tracheostomy (surgery that involves creating a small hole in the neck below the vocal cord and inserting a tube in the esophagus to improve breathing)

After the episode, treatment includes:

  • Managing triggers or treating the underlying condition (such as treating GERD and avoiding its triggers)
  • Psychotherapy
  • Speech therapy

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Medically Reviewed on 8/24/2021
References
Cleveland Clinic. Vocal Cord Dysfunction. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17623-vocal-cord-dysfunction

Buddiga P. Vocal Cord Dysfunction. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/137782-overview