The voice of asthma

If you have been diagnosed as having asthma, but are not responding to medications, the wheezing could be due to something entirely different.  Many people who have been treated, often unsuccessfully, for asthma have been found to have vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) instead.

So what is VCD?

Normally when an individual breathes in or out the vocal cords are drawn apart by the muscles of the larynx to make a wider opening for air to move into or out of the lungs. In an individual with VCD, the vocal cords move together, instead of being drawn apart, resulting in a narrowing and partial blockage of the airway. As a result of the narrowed airways, the individual may coughwheeze, feel short of breath, or make a high-pitched, harsh sound (stridor) with each breath.

Signs of VCD include:

  • Difficulty when breathing in
  • Wheezing occurring almost immediately after exercise
  • Wheezing that does not respond to bronchodilators

If this strikes a chord, you may need to be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist, (ENT) who can diagnose VCD with a number of simple tests.

Most patients with VCD do not need medicines, but can be helped by speech therapy techniques such as vocal cord relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. For some cases of acute VCS, helium-oxygen therapy may be prescribed. The helium-oxygen mixture (heliox) is less dense and more oxygen-rich than regular air, so it is easier to inhale.

Word on Health suggests if your asthma is not being relieved by asthma medications you may need to be more vocal in seeking treatment.

Remember, even if it sounds like asthma and feels like asthma, it might not be asthma!