Paradoxical vocal fold motion (PVFM), also known as vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), is a voice and breathing disorder caused by inappropriate movement of the vocal cords. That is, otherwise normal vocal cords close when they should open, such as when breathing. During one of these episodes, the person has difficulty taking air in, and/or has a chronic or “tickle” cough. This condition is often misdiagnosed as asthma. The voice can also become hoarse. Other symptoms may include throat tightness, upper chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a choking sensation. Diagnosis is sometimes difficult, and must be made by the pulmonologist (who can rule asthma in or out), otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor), voice therapist, and other professionals in some cases.
Once the diagnosis of PVFM is made, your specially-trained voice therapist will help to make you aware of what triggers your PVFM episodes, so that you can learn to avoid them. Triggers include physical exertion/exercise, acid reflux, breathing cold air, environmental irritants such as smoke, dust, fumes, or pollen, and psychosocial issues including anxiety and stress. Treatment will focus on relaxed, open-throat breathing through respiratory retraining, upper body relaxation, cough suppression strategies, and use of abdominal/diaphragmatic breath control.
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