Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD)

Top view of normal vocal cords. Top view of inflamed vocal cords.

You have been told that you may have vocal cord dysfunction (VCD).

What is VCD?

The vocal cords are two bands of muscle and connective inside the larynx (voice box). The larynx rests at the top of your trachea (windpipe). This is in your throat. Normally, when a person breathes in and out, air flows through the vocal cords and in and out of the lungs, allowing him or her to breathe easily. But with VCD, the vocal cords close when they should open. When you breathe in, instead of opening, the vocal cords close and cut off the air supply. The cause of VCD is often unclear. Conditions such as postnasal drip or acid reflux might trigger it. Cigarette smoking and cold air are other possible triggers.

Symptoms of VCD

Possible symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing (With VCD there is more difficulty breathing in than breathing out. With asthma, breathing out is more difficult.)

  • Wheezing

  • Hoarseness

  • Voice changes

  • Repeated coughing or throat clearing

  • Tightness in the chest or throat

VCD triggers can include such things as exercising, having a cold or viral infection, and inhaling lung irritants like smoke. Gastrointestinal reflux disease can also trigger VCD.

Diagnosing VCD

You may be asked to perform breathing tests to measure how well air flows into and out of your lungs. Laryngoscopy may also be done. This test allows the healthcare provider to view your vocal cords using a thin, often flexible scope called a laryngoscope. Because symptoms of VCD are similar to those of asthma, tests for asthma may be done.

Treating VCD

The main treatment for VCD is learning to manage and control symptoms when they occur. Recommendations may include the following:

  • Speech therapy. This teaches you how to control your vocal cords. A speech therapist or other specialist instructs you how to relax the muscles in your throat.

  • Relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and activities like yoga can help reduce stress.

  • Biofeedback. This teaches you how to control certain physical functions and responses. You learn how to reduce muscle tension.

  • Psychotherapy. This treatment involves working with a specially trained mental health professional about your problems. He or she can help you better cope with stress.

Other methods of treatment may be available. Your healthcare provider can tell you more, if needed.

Preventing VCD

To help prevent episodes of VCD, make changes in your life to reduce and manage triggers. If the cause of your VCD is a medical condition such as acid reflux, you may need to take medicine and change certain eating habits. If you smoke, quitting can help you control VCD. Your healthcare provider can tell you more.

Get medical care right away if you have severe trouble breathing.