Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Vocal Cord Dysfunction

If your child is diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction, you can count on Children’s Health℠ experts to manage all aspects of the condition with a caring, multidisciplinary team of highly trained experts.

What is Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

Vocal cords are located in the larynx or voice box. Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) occurs when vocal cords do not move properly. Instead of opening up when a child breathes in, the vocal cords close. This makes breathing difficult because the child isn’t fully able to inhale. VCD is also called paradoxical vocal fold motion disorder (PVFM) and laryngeal dysfunction.

VCD can come on suddenly or gradually. It may be mild, or it could be severe and lead to a trip to the emergency room. Even if an attack is severe, the oxygen level in the blood is usually normal. VCD is most commonly seen following significant and intense exercise.

What are the signs and symptoms of Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

Symptoms of VCD include

  • Breathing difficulty, with more difficulty getting air in than out
  • Cough that occurs when moving air in and out
  • Feeling of choking or suffocating
  • Hoarse voice
  • Throat and chest tightness
  • Throat clearing
  • Voice changes

Symptoms of VCD and asthma can often be confused. With asthma, the bronchial tubes tighten, leading to problems getting air out, but with VCD, the closure of the vocal cords leads to problems breathing air in.

Unlike asthma, VCD symptoms aren’t relieved with medications that open the breathing tubes – called bronchodilators, like albuterol.

How is Vocal Cord Dysfunction diagnosed?

Talking about your child’s health history is the best way to diagnose VCD. To rule out asthma, your child will take a breathing test called spirometry, a measure of air flow in and out of the lungs.

Your provider may also perform a laryngoscopy, which involves looking at the vocal cords through a camera attached to a flexible tube. The tube passes through the nose to the back of the throat to see the vocal cords. Sometimes this test can be done during or after a child exercises to try to induce the symptoms to more accurately diagnose the problem.

Asthma medications that open breathing passages will not help a child with VCD even though the symptoms are similar. However, many children with asthma also have VCD.

What are the causes of Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

VCD can be brought on by:

  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Acid reflux
  • Exercise
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Strong odors or fumes
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Upper respiratory infection or cold

How is Vocal Cord Dysfunction treated?

A speech therapist or psychologist will work with children to resolve VCD by teaching them how to control their vocal cords. The goal is to relax throat muscles, which, in turn, relaxes the vocal cords. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques can also be helpful.

Because stress is the biggest factor leading to VCD, managing emotions is an important part of the treatment.

If irritants led to VCD, our team will work with you and your child to find ways to eliminate the irritants from your environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can Vocal Cord Dysfunction be cured?

    Yes, a speech therapist, psychologist and your doctor can work with your child to control the VCD. Treatment will depend on the cause.

  • Will my child be able to live a normal life?

    Yes. Since VCD is a curable condition, once it’s resolved, your child’s daily routine can go back to how it was before they were diagnosed with the condition and they can live a normal life.