Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) Causes and Symptoms

Children with shortness of breath and discomfort while breathing may have a problem with their vocal cords.

Vocal cords are the two muscle bands in the voice box that come together to make speech. They move apart to allow for breathing.

In VCD, the vocal cords come together when you breathe in, instead of opening up.

VCD episodes occur for a period of time and then go away.

Because VCD is rare, your child's doctor may misdiagnose it as asthma.

The condition mostly occurs in teens but can show up in children as young as 8.

At the VCD Center at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, we diagnose and treat kids of all ages.


Contact the Vocal Cord Dysfunction Center

To learn more or book an appointment for your child's VCD, call 412-692-5460.


Vocal Cord Dysfunction Causes

When the muscles in the voice box stay tense for too long, they can malfunction.

Excess mucus and fluids can irritate the vocal cord muscles and also cause VCD.

Triggers of VCD include:

  • Intense exercise.
  • Stress.
  • Post-nasal drip, where excess mucus drips at the back of the throat.
  • Allergies and infections.
  • GERD, when stomach acid comes back up the esophagus.
  • Exposure to irritants, like perfumes, smoke, or cleaning chemicals.

Vocal Cord Dysfunction Symptoms

Symptoms of VCD occur during an acute episode rather than all the time.

The feeling can be scary for children, as they may feel like they're not getting enough air. But blood tests show that VCD doesn't affect a child's oxygen levels.

VCD symptoms include:

  • Asthma-like symptoms that don't go away with asthma treatments.
  • A noisy, often high-pitched sound with breathing in.
  • Throat tightness or pain.
  • Coughing or clearing the throat.
  • Feeling of choking.

How We Treat VCD at UPMC Children's Hospital

We treat VCD by treating conditions that can make it worse, like allergies or GERD. We also help you and your child pinpoint and avoid triggers, like stress.

Our speech pathologists work one-on-one with your child, teaching them techniques to relax their vocal cords.

Your child can use these simple techniques to avoid or reduce VCD symptoms throughout their lives.