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Why is vocal cord dysfunction frequently misdiagnosed as asthma?

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  • Article: Haines J (2011) Diagnosing and treating vocal cord dysfunction. Nursing Times; 107: 42, 18-20.
  • Author: Jemma Haines is principal respiratoryspeech and language therapist, Airways Clinic Services, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.

Key points

  • Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is the abnormal closure of the vocal cords during breathing, most commonly during inspiration
  • Symptoms are often misdiagnosed as asthma, meaning some patients suffer unnecessary treatment morbidity
  • There is poor awareness and understanding on how to best manage VCD due to a lack of robust prospective research
  • Diagnosis is typically based on case history and laryngoscopy, but pulmonary function tests, such as spirometry, can add further support
  • Patients who have limited, inconsistent or unexpected relief from bronchodilators may have VCD rather than asthma

Let’s discuss

  • Why is vocal cord dysfunction frequently misdiagnosed as asthma?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of vocal cord dysfunction?
  • How would you manage a patient with suspected vocal cord dysfunction?
  • How would you explain vocal cord dysfunction to a patient?

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