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Is it Asthma or Your Vocal Cords?

FMCFor patients who have Paradoxical Vocal Fold Motion, or PVFM, every breath they take is work. It’s an effort to pull air in through shut vocal cords, trying to get enough oxygen to function. Often, people who experience PVFM – also known as Paradoxical Vocal Fold Dysfunction and Vocal Cord Dysfunction – are often initially treated for asthma, because many of the symptoms are the same. However, several key differences distinguish PVFM from asthma:

  • Those with asthma most often have difficulty breathing out, while those with PVFM have the most trouble breathing in.
  • With PVFM, three times as many female children have PVFM than males; with asthma, more male children are diagnosed with asthma than females.
  • The difficulty with breathing associated with asthma is the result of inflammation of the air passages, which narrows the airways. With PVFM, the difficulty with breathing stems from the vocal cords closing instead of opening when the patient takes a breath.

Although a healthcare provider can diagnose PVFM by looking at the patient’s vocal cords with an endoscope, a diagnosis is usually based on a combination of reviewing the patient’s medical history, identifying the patient’s triggers for attacks, assessing the patient’s response to other treatments – such as those for asthma, getting a clear picture of symptoms, evaluating lung function and ruling out other possible causes.

Triggers for attacks are different for each patient, but often include:

  • Exercise
  • Environmental, inhaled irritants, such as chemicals or smoke in the air
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Reflux
  • Neurological disorders

Managing PVFM through speech therapy

Though it can be scary for patients to experience a PVFM attack, the dysfunction is very responsive to treatment. Speech therapy is often the main component of successfully managing PVFM, and healthcare providers typically recommended speech therapy either as the only treatment or in combination with other therapies or medications. During speech therapy, patients learn different breathing and voice strategies for pulling themselves out of an attack while it’s happening and assist them overall with achieving more normal vocal cord movement. Speech therapy also helps patients identify their personal triggers for attacks and eliminate them. FBN


EntireCare Experts

The therapists and specialists of Northern Arizona Healthcare’s EntireCare Rehab & Sports Medicine have the education and hands-on experience required to provide comprehensive, individualized treatment plans and therapies. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, many of our therapists also have advanced training and experience, including master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as additional certifications in one or more areas of expertise.

Each specific type of therapy − occupational, physical, hand, speech − is considered a specialty, and plays an important role in the rehabilitation process. The EntireCare team functions as a cohesive unit, where all members share information and knowledge. The ultimate goal is the patient’s improvement and return to the highest possible functioning level.

Choosing EntireCare means patients also have access to a myriad of additional services, such as advanced facilities, technology and equipment.

To make an appointment at one of our Flagstaff locations, call 928-773-2125.

  • Flagstaff Medical Center: 1215 N. Beaver St. The outpatient therapy center includes a large exercise gym; private rooms for hand, wound, electric stimulation and other treatments; above-ground therapeutic pool; group exercise classes and more.
  • East Flagstaff: 7810 N. Hwy. 89, Suite 280 (in the Elden Ridge Business Centre next to Subway). Full-time physical therapists provide comprehensive treatment options in a state-of-the-art facility. The clinic has both private treatment rooms and a gym-like area for patients to work one-on-one with therapists.

Cintamani Ellsworth is speech language pathologist.


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