Things That Can Trigger Vocal Cord Dysfunction

Neck And Throat Pain From Laryngitis Disease

Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) is a condition where the vocal cords behave abnormally, often resulting in difficulty breathing, a tight feeling in the throat, or a choking sensation. Unlike asthma, which affects the lower airways, VCD involves the upper airway. This condition can be triggered by a variety of factors, and understanding these triggers is crucial for managing the symptoms effectively. 

Common Triggers

Here’s a comprehensive look at some common triggers of Vocal Cord Dysfunction:

Irritants in the Environment

Environmental irritants such as smoke, pollution, dust, and strong odors (like those from perfumes or cleaning products) can trigger VCD. These irritants can cause the vocal cords to react and close involuntarily, leading to difficulty in breathing. People with VCD are often advised to avoid exposure to these irritants as much as possible.


Exercise-induced VCD occurs when physical activity triggers the vocal cords to constrict, which can be mistaken for asthma. This type of VCD is particularly common in athletes, and symptoms often occur during or immediately after exercise. Managing exercise-induced VCD involves modifying the intensity and duration of workouts and learning specialized breathing techniques.

Stress and Emotional Factors

Emotional stress, anxiety, and panic attacks can also lead to VCD. During periods of high stress or emotional turmoil, the body’s response can include the tightening of muscles in the throat, affecting the vocal cords. Techniques like deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and psychological counseling can be beneficial in managing stress-related VCD.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD, a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, can irritate and inflame the vocal cords, triggering VCD. The acid can cause a spasm of the vocal cords, leading to symptoms of VCD. Managing GERD through diet modifications, medications, and lifestyle changes can help reduce VCD episodes.

Respiratory Conditions

Respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic cough, sinusitis, and postnasal drip can exacerbate or trigger VCD. These conditions can cause inflammation or irritation in the throat and nasal passages, indirectly affecting the vocal cords. Treating the underlying respiratory condition is often key to reducing VCD episodes.

Neurological Disorders

Some neurological disorders can affect the control of the vocal cords, leading to dysfunction. Disorders that affect muscle control and nerve function can inadvertently cause the vocal cords to behave abnormally. In such cases, treatment of the underlying neurological condition can help in managing VCD.

Voice Overuse or Misuse

Excessive talking, yelling, singing, or other forms of voice strain can lead to VCD. This overuse or misuse can cause the vocal cords to become irritated and more prone to dysfunction. Vocal therapy and techniques to reduce strain on the vocal cords can be effective in such cases.


Allergic reactions, particularly those affecting the respiratory system, can trigger VCD. The inflammation and irritation caused by allergic responses can lead to spasms of the vocal cords. Managing allergies through medication or avoidance of allergens can help reduce the risk of VCD episodes.

Inhaling Chemicals or Toxins

Exposure to certain chemicals, whether in the workplace or through hobbies, can irritate the vocal cords and trigger VCD. Chemical fumes, gases, and other toxins can be particularly problematic for individuals with VCD. Avoiding exposure and ensuring adequate ventilation when working with chemicals is crucial.

Managing VCD Triggers

Understanding your triggers is the first step in managing VCD. Here are some general tips:

  • Avoid Known Irritants: Stay away from pollutants, smoke, and strong odors as much as possible.
  • Manage Stress: Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or counseling can help manage stress levels.
  • Treat Underlying Conditions: Addressing issues like GERD or allergies can reduce VCD episodes.
  • Voice Care: Avoid straining your voice and practice good vocal hygiene.
  • Breathing Exercises: Learning specific breathing techniques can help control VCD during an episode.


Vocal Cord Dysfunction can be challenging to diagnose and manage, as it often mimics other respiratory conditions like asthma. However, understanding and avoiding triggers can significantly improve quality of life for those affected. If you suspect you have VCD, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Lee A. Kleiman a doctor at Anne Arundel ENT

Dr. Lee A. Kleiman is a double board certified ENT & plastic surgeon at Anne Arundel ENT in Annapolis, Maryland known for his superior clinical outcomes in all Surgical and Non-Surgical ENT, specializing in Sinus Care, Voice and Swallowing, Rhinoplasty and Revision Rhinoplasty, and Facelifts and Non-surgical Aesthetic. He also continues to attend conferences internationally and nationally to keep abreast of the latest treatments and technology.