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Vocal Cord Dysfunction

What is Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

People who have vocal cord dysfunction often have a very sensitive or reactive airway.  Common triggers of vocal cord dysfunction episodes include reflux, airborne particles, strong emotion, voice overuse, cough, exercise, or fumes.  Vocal cord dysfunction is sometimes misdiagnosed as asthma.

What are the symptoms of Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

Chronic cough may be caused by any of the following:

  • Throat or chest tightness

  • Noisy inhalation

  • Difficulty getting air "in"

  • Feeling of throat closing

  • Feeling of being "strangled"

  • Intermittent shortness of breath

  • Chronic cough

  • Voice change/Inability to speak

Vocal Cord Dysfunction Treatment

Treatment for vocal cord dysfunction, along with treatment of any underlying chronic irritation, includes respiratory retraining therapy with a speech language pathologist.  This therapy is generally two to six sessions in length.  These sessions aim to:

  • Identify and eliminate sources of chronic vocal cord irritation using vocal hygiene guidelines

  • Identify and control triggers for paradoxical episodes.

  • Detail an exercise program to give patients better control over breathing, and reduce the discomfort and fear that comes with being short of breath.

  • Include feedback to help you learn to keep the vocal cords apart during breathing.

Reviewed by Kristine Teets, M.A., from the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

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