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Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is sometimes confused with asthma because the symptoms are similar. If you are having poor control of wheezing, difficulty breathing or throat tightness and asthma medications such as albuterol or inhaled corticosteroids are not helping, you may have VCD.

VCD occurs when the vocal cords (voice box) do not open correctly. This disorder is also called paradoxical vocal fold movement. Vocal cords should be open when taking in a breath and in some people with VCD, the vocal cords actually close instead.

In asthma, the airways (Bronchial tubes) tighten, making breathing difficult. With VCD, the vocal cord muscle tighten, which also makes breathing difficult. VCD is not triggered by allergies or the immune system like asthma.

A board-certified allergist/immunologist has specialized training and experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of complex conditions such as asthma and VCD.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Throat tightness
  • Hoarse voice
  • Voice changes

Much like asthma, certain things may trigger VCD like breathing in lung irritants, exercising, a cold or viral infection or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can also be triggered anxiety during stressful performances like for singing, public speaking or cheerleading.

VCD causes more difficulty breathing in than breathing out which is the reverse of asthma symptoms. It also is described as having a feeling of throat tightness or wheezing in the upper airway rather than coming from lower in the lungs.

Diagnosing VCD can be challenging. A board-certified Allergist can use spirometry or laryngoscopy to identify this disorder.

Treatment typically involves relaxed throat breathing exercises and speech therapy that can help you with deep breathing techniques.

If you suffer from asthma, allergies or GERD, managing these conditions will help in treating VCD.