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vocal cords

Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Written by: J. Nikki Gaylord, MA, CCC-SLP


Vocal cords are located in the throat in a “box” of muscles and cartilages called the voice box (larynx).  Typically, when you breathe in (inhale), your vocal cords are open and this allows air to move into your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs.  When you breathe out (exhale), your vocal cords open again and let the air out of your lungs.  Breathing out can also cause your vocal cords to vibrate and lets you produce sounds for speech.

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), also called paradoxical vocal cord motion disorder (PVCM), occurs when your vocal cords try to close when you breathe in or out.  This makes getting air into and out of your lungs difficult. 

Common signs of vocal cord dysfunction include:

  • shortness of breath
  • frequent cough or throat clearing
  • tightness in the throat or chest
  • a feeling of choking or suffocation
  • ·noisy breathing (stridor, gasping, raspy sounds, wheezing). 

Vocal cord dysfunction can have several triggers including physical exertion or exercise, stress, acid reflux (GERD), post-nasal drip, upper respiratory infection, strong odors or fumes, and tobacco smoke.

Vocal cord dysfunction is often confused with asthma because the symptoms and triggers for VCD and asthma can be similar.  Symptoms from VCD are not relieved by taking asthma medications that open your breathing tubes.     Often, a person can have both vocal cord dysfunction and asthma. 

Vocal cord dysfunction is different than many other breathing issues because medicines are not the main treatment to control VCD.  The primary treatment for VCD is learning techniques that help you control your vocal cords.  These are usually taught by a speech-language therapist.  In addition to strategies and techniques to control your vocal cords, CRMC speech therapists have been employing a new device called The Breather with these patients that offer a home exercise program to improve exhalation and inhalation.  This device assists in teaching diaphragmatic breathing and is an excellent supplement to skilled therapy provided by speech therapist.

For further information regarding vocal cord dysfunction therapy at Capital Region Medical Center Sam B. Cook Healthplex, please call 632-5267 or 632-5633.