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UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SOUTHWESTERN MEDICAL CENTER: Vocal cord dysfunction can trigger extreme breathing problems while exercising

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University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center issued the following announcement on June 9

Most athletes occasionally feel short of breath while running or exercising. But extreme shortness of breath accompanied by wheezing, coughing, and tightness in your chest is a sign that something is wrong.

Having these symptoms often leads to a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma – a lung condition that causes a patient’s airways to narrow during strenuous physical activity. However, if symptoms do not improve with the use of an inhaler, asthma might not be the culprit – it could be vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), another condition commonly triggered by exercise.

Nearly 80 percent of VCD cases are misdiagnosed as asthma, which means patients are taking strong medications that don’t work for the condition they really have.

Fortunately, vocal cord dysfunction is not life-threatening, but its alarming symptoms can make patients fear their next attack and avoid exercise altogether – which can negatively impact their emotional and physical health.

Therapists in our multidisciplinary Voice Care team will teach you breathing and rescue techniques to control your vocal cords and throat. Vocal cord dysfunction is treatable and even preventable, with advanced speech therapy, but oftentimes the difficulty is getting the right diagnosis.

Vocal cord dysfunction vs. asthma

While VCD and asthma share quite a few symptoms, and it’s possible to have both, there are some differences. VCD, also called paradoxical vocal fold motion (PVFM), causes the vocal cords to close fully or partially while breathing in.

o, instead of getting more air when you need it most, you feel like you’re getting too little. The result is a panicked feeling of not being able to breathe, accompanied by a high-pitched whistle upon inhaling that can be frightening to patients and bystanders alike. Vocal cord dysfunction is usually diagnosed in the teen years, and approximately 80 percent of patients are female.

Despite their name, your vocal cords’ primary purpose isn’t to produce sound; it’s to protect your lungs. Normally, the tiny vocal cord muscles close when you swallow to prevent food and drink from entering the windpipe. When breathing, they remain open, and the openings typically widen during exercise to maximize the amount of air you breathe.

Unlike asthma, vocal cord dysfunction causes problems while inhaling rather than exhaling. VCD can cause a high-pitched whistling sound (stridor) when you inhale. This is different from the wheezing noise more commonly made by people with asthma when they exhale.

Another condition that might be mistaken for VCD is anaphylaxis, or a severe allergic reaction. A key difference: Difficulty breathing due to anaphylaxis usually is preceded by other symptoms, such as breaking out in hives or swelling of the lips or tongue.

Original source can be found here.

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