What is Vocal Cord Dysfunction?

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  • Written By: Casey Kennedy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), which is also known as paradoxical vocal fold motion, is a type of medical condition in which a person experiences an abnormal closure of the vocal cords. This closure may make the person feel like she is choking or cause her to have difficulty in breathing. It is a condition that can strike anyone at any age.

There are several signs of vocal cord dysfunction others may observe. The person may have a chronic or barking cough. The individual's breathing may have a whistling sound, or he may make a gasping sound when he tries to catch his breath. If he is trying to talk, he may become hoarse or sound out of breath when he tries to speak.

Other noticeable signs include neck and chest retractions, inability to speak, or rapid, shallow breathing. In a severe case of vocal cord dysfunction, the person may pass out or develop hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the blood stream. There may also be signs of cyanosis with hypoxia. This may cause the skin to turn blue, purple, or pale gray in color.


When a person describes the symptoms of vocal cord dysfunction, she may state that she is having trouble breathing in air or is experiencing trouble exhaling. Individuals may complain of tightness in the throat or report a choking sensation. In some cases, there may be an advanced warning of an oncoming attack, and the person may feel that a lump is forming in the throat or have a sharp taste in the mouth.

Although vocal cord dysfunction is quite common, many emergency room doctors and nurses may not recognize this condition. It has been written about in medical journals—however, the signs and symptoms often mimic many other types of conditions. Vocal cord dysfunction may be misdiagnosed as asthma, an allergic reaction, or even a panic attack. Some treatments, such as the treatment for pediatric gastric reflux, may even cause vocal cord dysfunction.

If someone is having an episode of vocal cord dysfunction, immediate treatment is needed. This may include an inhaled mixture of helium and oxygen, intermittent positive pressure ventilation, bronchial inhalers, or even medication for anxiety. To prevent future attacks from occurring, long-term treatments may be needed. These treatments may include speech therapy, breathing exercises and self-hypnotherapy. Psychotherapy may also be recommended to help sufferers cope with the stress of their condition.


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