Recently I have been diagnosed with having VCD (vocal cord disfunction) which to be blunt just means my vocal cords do their own thing and open and close when they want. This means my air is restricted and when they go into spasms i’m not getting all the air flow through. This on top of my asthma just makes life so fun trying to breathe! However, like all things having good knowledge about your own health and conditions and how to manage it can help.
So heres some facts and then some exercises to help with VCD.
Asthma and VCD
Both asthma and vocal cord dysfunction can make breathing difficult. Signs and symptoms of either condition can include coughing, wheezing, throat tightness and hoarseness, but they’re two separate disorders.
Vocal cord dysfunction is the abnormal closing of the vocal cords when you breathe in or out. It’s also called laryngeal dysfunction or paradoxical vocal cord motion. Like asthma, vocal cord dysfunction can be triggered by breathing in lung irritants, having an upper respiratory infection or exercising. However, unlike asthma, vocal cord dysfunction isn’t an immune system reaction and doesn’t involve the lower airways. Treatment for the two conditions also is different.
Your doctor may suspect vocal cord dysfunction rather than asthma if:
- It’s harder to breathe in than breathe out when symptoms flare up
- Asthma medications don’t seem to ease your symptoms
- Results of breathing (pulmonary function) tests or other tests for asthma are normal
Because they have similar triggers and symptoms, it’s common for vocal cord dysfunction to be misdiagnosed as asthma. This can lead to use of asthma medications that don’t help and cause side effects. Some people have both vocal cord dysfunction and asthma, and require treatment for both conditions.
Treatment for vocal cord dysfunction may involve panting maneuvers, speech therapy, psychological counseling and avoidance of irritants.
WHAT IS VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION?
Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is a condition in which individuals experience difficulty breathing due to a problem in the throat or larynx (also known as the voice box). When an individual tries to breathe in, the two tiny white bands in the larynx called the vocal cords (or vocal folds) close, preventing air from entering the windpipe or the trachea. Vocal cord dysfunction is also known as paradoxical vocal fold dysfunction, involuntary vocal fold closure and laryngospasm.
Vocal cord dysfunction is more prevalent in females than males, regardless of age. In children, vocal cord dysfunction is often seen in competitive athletes. Usually the episodes are temporary, but due to a delayed or inaccurate diagnosis, individuals may go without specific treatment for a long time. This problem often coexists with other conditions such as asthma, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and allergies.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION?
There are several symptoms of vocal cord dysfunction, many of them serious. A person with VCD may find it difficult to be involved in sports or other physical activity due to their symptoms, including:
- Shortness of breath (especially recurrent episodes)
- Noisy breathing or stridor (a harsh vibrating sound heard during respiration)
- Throat and chest tightness
- More difficulty getting air “in” than “out”
- Near or total loss of consciousness in severe conditions
- Sensation of choking or suffocation
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Intermittent voice loss or change of voice
- Chronic throat clearing or cough
WHAT CAUSES VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION?
The exact cause of vocal cord dysfunction has not been established. Upper airway sensitivities, reflux, central nervous system (CNS) disorders and psychosomatic issues have been suspected to result in adapting improper upper airway patterns during the breathing process.
HOW IS VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION EVALUATED?
Diagnosis and treatment of vocal cord dysfunction often involves a team of specialists including (but not limited to) speech-language pathologists, pulmonologists, allergists, otolaryngologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, athletic trainers and coaches. Often clients will receive an extensive medical evaluation and interview prior to the assessment of vocal cord dysfunction by a speech-language pathologist.
A speech-language pathologist and otolaryngologist will typically perform an endoscopic examination of the voice box and run a variety of breathing tasks to determine:
- Laryngeal valving performance
- Respiratory driving pressure for speech
- Musculoskeletal tension in the laryngeal area
They will also complete a structural/functional examination of speech structures and provide biofeedback of breathing exercises. In addition, sometimes a pulmonary specialist will perform pulmonary function tests including spirometry, pulse oximetry and methacholine challenge tests.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT FOR VOCAL CORD DYSFUNCTION?
Treatment for vocal cord dysfunction varies. It requires a multidisciplinary approach and is determined by coexisting conditions. However, the speech-language pathologist is the primary treatment facilitator for vocal cord dysfunction.
(UK healthcare, 2015)
What can help improve VCD?
So here are some of the exericses that i have been given to help improve my vocal cords and hopefully keep them open when they are meant to be!
Blowing out through your lips (not from throat and with no sound) – can be a short blow, like your blowing a candle out.
Quick sniff, like you have a runny nose. Short and sharp and it will ‘shock’ your vocal cords in a way and open them right up.
Posh yawning ! – pretend yawning with your mouth closed. Like you are trying to hide the fact that you are yawning. This helps relax your throat and vocal cords.
Then for the co-ordination improvement that they learn to open and close when they are meant to. makine ‘eeeeee’ sounds is meant to have them closed, and then sniffing opens them. So in a pattern do ‘eeeeee’ and then snif. so – ‘eeeee’ sniff ‘eeee’ sniff ‘eeeee’ sniff etc….
Mayo Clinic – Accessed 11/04/2017. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/expert-answers/vocal-cord-dysfunction/faq-20058019
UK healthcare – Accessed 11/04/2017. Available from: https://ukhealthcare.uky.edu/ENT/vocal/