Vocal cord dysfunction in a child

J C Juliá, A Martorell, M A Armengot, R Lluch, C F Boluda, J C Cerdá, V Alvarez
Allergy 1999, 54 (7): 748-51
Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) involves paradoxical adduction of the vocal cord during the respiratory cycle. This usually occurs during inspiration, but can also be seen in expiration. Vocal cord appositioning produces airflow obstruction sufficient to cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. These symptoms often imitate the respiratory alterations of asthma, thus leading to inappropriate treatment; intubation or tracheotomy may prove necessary. An 11-year-old girl was admitted with intractable dyspnea. She had been diagnosed with atopic asthma, although she failed to respond to an increase in antiasthma medication, including high-dose oral steroids. Flow-volume loops were abnormal, with evidence of variable extrathoracic airway obstruction, manifested as a flat inspiratory loop. No structural abnormalities were seen with either computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Fibroscopy revealed paradoxical adduction of the vocal cords during the respiratory cycle, no obstructive disorder being observed. After the diagnosis of VCD, the clinical manifestations resolved with psychiatric treatment. Adduction was not demonstrable at repeat fibroscopy after treatment. VCD may simulate bronchial asthma; it may also be associated with that disorder, thus masking the diagnosis. It should be suspected in patients with recurrent wheezing who fail to respond to usual asthma treatment. An early diagnosis avoids unnecessary aggressive management. Treatment should consist of respiratory and phonatory exercises; psychotherapy may be useful.

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