Vocal cord dysfunction is the uncontrolled closing of the vocal cords when you breathe in. The symptoms can seem to be the same as those of asthma and may occur alone or along with asthma. If you have asthma and vocal cord dysfunction, it may be difficult for you to tell the difference between symptoms of the two conditions.
Sometimes vocal cord dysfunction happens quickly and may require a trip to the emergency room. The condition occurs in both men and women but may be more common in women who are high achievers.
Vocal cord dysfunction is often caused by postnasal drainage or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and improves with treatment of these conditions.
The following factors may help your health professional evaluate vocal cord dysfunction, especially in people who do not have asthma. The person:
- Usually is young and female.
- Has an abrupt attack but recovers quickly.
- May be able to speak during an attack, but often has a hoarse voice.
- May improve when he or she pants or sings.
- Has more problem breathing in than out.
- May have a dry cough.
- Usually has normal results on lung function tests, such as spirometry.
- May not respond to standard asthma treatment.
The attacks usually do not occur at night. Also, the harsh, high-pitched sound of air coming into a tight airway (stridor) may be heard at the throat.
Some forms of vocal cord dysfunction occur in people who do not have asthma and/or GERD. In these people, vocal cord dysfunction may be associated with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and a history of being sexually abused.
An acute attack may be treated with CPAP, breathing heliox (a mixture of helium and oxygen), or an anti-anxiety medicine. Long-term treatments include psychotherapy and speech therapy.
Current as of: June 8, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine