Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is also known as paradoxical vocal cord dysfunction. So what are the symptoms and how do you tell the difference?
Vocal Cord Dysfunction Symptoms (VCD Symptoms)
It can be difficult to diagnose whether or not a person has asthma or vocal cord dysfunction because they have similar symptoms and triggers. Breathing is made more difficult in both, as well as having a hoarse voice, tightness in the throat, wheezing, and coughing. They are however two totally separate disorders.
When you have VCD, vocal cord dysfunction, this means your vocal cords do not close properly when you are breathing in. If you are exposed to any lung irritant or contract an upper respiratory infection, this can trigger the symptoms, as also can exercise . The same is true with asthma. Asthma is the immune system having a reaction and involves lower airway infection, whereas, VCD does not, therefore treatment will be different for each condition.
This is important because if improperly diagnosed, a person who suffers from vocal cord dysfunction and who is treated with prescribed asthma medication such as cortisteroids and bronchodilators will receive absolutely no benefit and may indeed suffer from unwanted side effects.
One way to suspect vocal cord dysfunction instead of asthma is if
- Result of pulmonary function test comes back normal
- Asthma medication does not work
- Tightness in your throat
- When your symptoms flare up you have more difficulty breathing in rather than out
- You have no respiratory infection
- Nothing is present obstructing your airway
With asthma you will have
- Tightness in your lower or middle chest
- More difficulty breathing out, with high pitched or wheezing sound
- Respiratory infections are more prevalent
- Bronchodilator or other asthma medications work
- As many as 25% of those who suffer from vocal cord dysfunction also have asthma so they may not realize that they have both of the disorders until the vocal cord dysfunction starts to worsen.
It Is NOT A Panic Attack
Vocal cord dysfunction has also been misdiagnosed as panic attacks because it can be triggered by psychological distress. It is important to note that it is not caused by stress but when a person is under extremely stressful situations, this can trigger the symptoms. Other factors that seem to bring on symptoms are having a post nasal drip and suffering from gas reflux. At times environmental causes, such as shouting or singing, tobacco smoke exposure, chemical fumes or even physical exercise can trigger the symptoms.
How To Improve VCD
There is no specific medication for those with vocal cord dysfunction other than to treat any sinus infections or acid reflux symptoms that may occur. There are, however, techniques to control the vibration of the vocal cords and to relax when you breath, that have proven to be helpful; and consultation with a speech therapist can help you to learn these.
Asthma is when the bronchial tubes are inflamed. This causes sticky secretion to be produced inside of the tubes. This mucus clogs the airway and restricts oxygen flow to the lungs. Those at risk the most for asthma are those who suffer from allergies and those who have family histories of asthma. If a parent suffers from asthma, their children are from 3 to 6 times more likely to have it also. In childhood it is more common for boys to be diagnosed while girls are diagnosed more as adults. If you have frequent coughing, sleeping difficulties, fatigue that cannot be explained and feeling as if you’re out of breath, you may consider being checked for asthma.
Asthma sufferers use long term medications to control the bronchial inflammation. Even so there are sometimes flare ups (called asthma attacks) in which an inhaler filled with medications much be used immediately. These medications will work very quickly to relax the muscles that tighten around the airways and allow the flow of air to the lungs to be restored. These inhalers must be carried by the asthmatic at all times since they could be exposed to a trigger and have to use it.
In cases that are severe, asthma can be life threatening because it closes off the airway. Vocal cord dysfunction, however uncomfortable and whatever terrible feelings it produces, does not close off the airway. It is not life threatening. It can of course, still be the source of much anxiety so it is important that you get checked out by a doctor right away if you have any of the symptoms mentioned, to get the proper diagnosis.