Vocal Cord Dysfunction Therapy

What is Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

Vocal Cord Dysfunction, or VCD, is a paradoxical movement of the true vocal cords that disrupts the normal flow of air into the lungs.

When you breathe in and out, your vocal cords open. This opening is coordinated with the challenge of the respiratory activity. With VCD, the opening of the vocal cords is discoordinated and frequently incomplete, restricting the opening for airflow into the trachea (windpipe). This incomplete opening or constricting of the vocal cords produces many symptoms.

What are the symptoms of VCD?

  • chronic cough
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest and/or throat tightness
  • chronic throat clearing
  • difficulty "getting air"
  • hoarseness
  • wheezing
  • difficulty swallowing

What are the triggers of VCD?

  • nasal allergies
  • upper respiratory infections
  • fumes/odors (e.g., cigarette smoke)
  • temperature changes
  • singing
  • emotional upset
  • exercise
  • sinus infections with drainage
  • acid reflux

How is VCD diagnosed?

VCD may be diagnosed by your primary care physician, an allergist, an ENT, or a pulmonologist using medical history, spirometry and/or direct fiberoptic laryngoscopy.  Your physician may then refer you to a speech pathologist to help alleviate symptoms of VCD with a short course of treatment. 

What are the goals of voice therapy for VCD?

Your therapy will emphasize:

  • relaxation of the laryngeal complex or "voice box"
  • coordination of opening and closing of the true vocal cords during respiration
  • methods to control symptoms of VCD during an episode
  • strategies to prevent further episodes
  • strategies to suppress cough and chronic throat clearing

For more information:
National Jewish Health's "Vocal Cord Dysfunction Overview" 

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