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Asthma Complexities (cont.)

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Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD)

Vocal cord dysfunction is an episodic condition involving sudden closure of the voice box (larynx) as a result of the two vocal cords sticking together. The symptoms of vocal-cord dysfunction are the sudden onset of difficulty breathing and talking, panic, and a shrill sound much like the sound made by a child suffering from croup. Vocal cord dysfunction often is misdiagnosed and treated as asthma because both conditions may have symptoms of wheezing; however, with vocal-cord dysfunction, wheezing usually occurs during inspiration (breathing in), while with asthma, wheezing occurs during expiration (breathing out). Medications used for treating asthma are not effective for treating vocal-cord dysfunction.

Since a correct diagnosis of vocal-cord dysfunction can be difficult, affected people may have repeated episodes that are inappropriately treated as attacks of asthma. The diagnosis often requires a careful, direct inspection of the vocal cords, typically by an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The attacks of vocal-cord dysfunction usually resolve spontaneously (on their own). Occasionally, however, a tracheotomy tube needs to be inserted to prevent the obstruction and problems with breathing. Vocal-cord dysfunction often is associated with acute panic or anxiety attacks that require antianxiety medications, speech therapy, and psychotherapy in order to prevent episodes. Other terms often used for vocal-cord dysfunction include spastic dysphonia and globus hystericus.

Other hypersensitivity (allergic) reactions

Inhaled mold spores and particles from bird droppings and feathers (such as from parrots) can cause hypersensitivity (allergic) reactions in the bronchial tubes and the lungs. For example, when Aspergillus fungal spores cause an allergic reaction in the bronchial tubes, the condition is called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Affected individuals have both asthma and bronchiectasis which require treatment with both bronchodilators and corticosteroids over a prolonged period of time. When the lung tissues develop an allergic reaction to inhaled bacteria, fungi, or bird particles, the condition is called hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). HP is differentiated from acute asthma by the lack of wheezing, the presence of a fever, and the pattern of pneumonia on the chest X-ray. HP is treated by avoiding the allergens and administering corticosteroids.


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