Remedies for Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on November 28, 2022
3 min read

Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is when the folds of the vocal cords — also known as the larynx or voice box — do not open properly. Normally, when you breathe in or out, your vocal cords open, allowing you to make sounds. However, when dysfunction occurs, they close instead. This can affect your voice and make it harder to breathe.

Symptoms of VCD include:

Many VCD episodes have no discernible cause. Other times, there is a known cause. The following are some things that can cause vocal cord dysfunction:

  • Cold or flu
  • Strong smells
  • Chemical fumes
  • Smoke
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD; stomach acid comes up into your throat)
  • Postnasal drip (phlegm in the throat)
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Strong emotions

Since the symptoms of VCD and asthma are very similar, people with VCD often get diagnosed with asthma instead. It is also possible to have both conditions. The difference between the two is that bronchodilators — inhaled medications that open your bronchial tubes — help during an asthma attack but do not help during a VCD attack.

Remedies for VCD typically focus on preventing an attack. If you do have a VCD attack, you may need immediate medical attention.

There are many ways you can help resolve vocal cord dysfunction. Some of them include:

Speech and Breathing Exercises

After a VCD attack, you may attend sessions with a speech therapist. They will show you several exercises that you can do to prevent attacks in the future. The exercises help you relax your throat muscles to prevent an attack from happening. You must practice these exercises regularly so that if you do have an attack you can remain in control.

One example of a breathing exercise for VCD is a rescue breath. To do this exercise, start with your lips pursed (tightly together). Do a long exhale through your pursed lips. Then, take two short inhales through your nose. Repeat this breathing pattern a few times until your breathing improves. This is an exercise you can try if you feel a VCD attack coming on, so you should practice it regularly, even when you are not having an attack.


One VCD trigger is stress or strong emotions (like anger, fear, or sadness). Getting counseling or psychotherapy can help you to manage stress and emotions to help you avoid VCD attacks. 

There are many types of psychotherapy and it may take some time to find the right health professional or type of psychotherapy for you. Psychotherapy — also called talk therapy — can teach you coping mechanisms to help you stay calm even when things are tough. It can also help you work through emotional issues that may lead to VCD attacks.

Trigger Management

Some people don’t know what triggers (causes them to have) a VCD attack. However, if you do, it’s important to avoid whatever triggers them. For example, if cigarette smoke had led to a VCD attack in the past, you may need to remove yourself from a situation where people are smoking around you.

If your VCD is triggered by another health condition, like allergies, it is important to work with a doctor to get that condition under control. Usually, medication helps in these instances.

Since VCD causes difficulty breathing, you need to see a doctor right away if you have an attack and cannot manage the symptoms on your own. You may need emergency care. Once you are breathing normally, you can work with your doctor on a diagnosis and preventive care. 

To diagnose, doctors perform several types of tests. One test, spirometry, shows how air is moving in and out of your lungs. Another is for the doctor to look at your vocal cords with a small camera while you are having trouble breathing.

However, it’s very hard to diagnose VCD unless you are actively having symptoms. So, doctors may try to have you exercise or use medication to safely induce (bring on) an attack while you are in the office so they can properly diagnose you.

Once you have your diagnosis, doctors usually recommend speech therapy to manage symptoms. In rare cases, if the vocal cords are completely frozen in the closed position, your doctor may recommend surgery.