Have you or someone you love been diagnosed with asthma, but are finding that the asthma medication you’ve been prescribed isn’t really helping? It could be that you are actually suffering from vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), also known as Paradoxical Vocal Fold Movement (PVFM). This misdiagnosis can happen because the two have similar symptoms and asthma is a common diagnosis for breathing issues. In addition, it is common for someone to have both asthma and VCD, making a proper diagnosis even more difficult.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) , the symptoms of VCD can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat tightness
- Hoarse voice
- Voice changes
Adding to the confusion, AAAAI tells us that “breathing in lung irritants, exercising, a cold or viral infection, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) may trigger symptoms of VCD.” However, where asthma involves airways and the immune system and is an allergic reaction, VCD does not. The latter occurs when the vocal cords aren’t working properly. Usually, the vocal cords remain open as you breathe in and out, closing (and vibrating) when you speak. In VCD, they inappropriately tighten as you inhale, subsequently making it difficult to take air in. It is the reverse for asthma sufferers who have trouble exhaling.
Another difference between the two conditions is that vocal cord dysfunction is not life-threatening and requires little more than the person relaxing for the issue to subside. Asthma, on the other hand, can be fatal if not treated properly; therefore, it is extremely important to have a correct diagnosis.
In order to properly diagnose your condition, your doctor will first discuss your symptoms and your medical history. He or she will then have you take a breathing test called spirometry. This test measures how much air you inhale and exhale as well as how quickly you can exhale. Basically, it detects how well your lungs are working. Your doctor may also perform a laryngoscopy, which involves looking at the vocal cords with a camera that is attached to a flexible tube inserted in your throat. Both procedures can usually be done right in the doctor’s office.
If you are diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction, there is no need to panic. Treatment that teaches how to relax and open up the vocal cords through speech therapy and deep breathing techniques is highly successful. In addition to these techniques, your doctor will help you manage any conditions that trigger VCD including asthma, GERD, post-nasal drip and stress.
If you believe you are experiencing vocal cord dysfunction, make an appointment with one of our expert physicians at Westwood Ear, Nose and Throat. From the minute you pick up the phone and call, you will experience our patient-centered philosophy of care. When you come in, we’ll take the time to sit down with you and talk about all of your symptoms and concerns. Next, we’ll administer thorough, state-of-the-art testing to figure out exactly what is causing your breathing problems. Once we do, we’ll sit back down with you and discuss the pathology and develop an individualized treatment plan for you. We’re not horsing around and before you know it, you’ll be breathing and speaking comfortably again.
Call us today at (203) 574-5997 and schedule an appointment at one of our three conveniently-located locations.