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How I outran VCD

Amanda LoveallAmanda Loveall is a High School runner who was diagnosed with VCD – Vocal Cord Dysfunction. This is her story, of how running has helped her to cope with the problems thrown her way.

How I outran VCD

Running is not just a sport, it is a way of life. For some it may come naturally, and others may have to work twice as hard. Since the time I was in third grade running has been a part of my life. It took a bit of coaxing to get me to join a local track club, but I did it anyway, and I have never regretted it. I have had my hard times, but overall I have been a very successful runner, and lucky to not have had many injuries. I entered my freshman year in high school as a top recruit. The coaches knew of my potential and were eager to witness it, and I did not disappoint. I broke the school record that year, but I was unaware of the hardships that were to come.

Amanda Loveall - How I outran VCD

Amanda Loveall - How I outran VCD

At the end of my cross-country season, sophomore year, I began experiencing breathing difficulties, but thinking it was a fluke, my family and coaches overlooked it. It wasn’t until later in Track that we began to think there was a problem. After numerous tests, misdiagnoses, inhalers, and pills, one doctor thought I might have a recently discovered disorder called Vocal Cord Dysfunction. Like many people, I had no idea what VCD was, but I did a lot of research and asked my specialist questions to get the facts straight.

I feel that it is a disorder that should not be overlooked, and athletes need to be more aware of it. When you breathe in and out, your vocal cords open up allowing the oxygen to flow through your windpipe or trachea, and eventually to your lungs. When you have VCD, Amanda Loveall and friendyour vocal cords will constrict allowing very little, if any air to pass through upon inhalation. There are many common symptoms of VCD, but since many physicians are unaware of the disorder, making a diagnosis can be quite difficult. Some common symptoms may include chronic cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, throat tightness, hoarseness, and wheezing. There are tests that can be given to help determine whether or not asthma is the problem, since the two bear such a striking resemblance to each other. Many physicians will perform a laryngoscopy, quite possibly the most important test in making a diagnosis. This test is usually administered when a patient is experiencing the symptoms. That way the movement of the vocal cords can be monitored.

The definitive cause of VCD is still unknown, but there are many things that bring on symptoms. The main trigger for me is running. Some other triggers doctors suspect are eating a lot of acidic foods, which can cause irritation of the vocal cords. Chronic post nasal drip as well as chronic use of inhalers also irritates the vocal cords. More triggers include anxiety, emotional stress, and vocal cord strain brought on by singing or excessive yelling, cigarette smoke, perfumes, or respiratory infections. In my case, and most others, VCD attacks are very unpredictable. It is important to begin preventative measures, to be as prepared as possible, and to learn rescue strategies to help get out of an attack when it occurs.

When I was officially diagnosed with VCD, I began to see a specialist so that she could help me to determine what was triggering my VCD. Speech therapy is an important step in learning about the proper ways to speak and breathe. Certain exercises help with abdominal breathing as well as relaxing throat muscles. This enables you to be more in control of your throat, so that when an attack occurs you can be more prepared. My doctor went over the exercises with me to make sure I understood what muscles I was working and exactly how to perform them. She informed me how crucial it was to practice these exercises when symptoms are not present, that way a VCD attack can be more controlled to allow maximum airflow. She also helped in identifying stresses in my life, which is also another trigger of VCD. Counseling can be very beneficial to patients.

VCD has been found in people ranging from ages 8 to 80, but it most commonly occurs in adolescents and young adults, predominantly females. VCD is a serious problem that is still a relatively unknown disorder in the world of health. I felt very frustrated not knowing what was wrong with me, but my family and I were persistent and we did a lot of research, and eventually the answers came.

Since I was diagnosed with VCD, it has been a very tough road. In some ways I believe part of what causes my VCD attacks is pressure. I want so much to run like I used to, but I work every day to make sure that is not my goal. Running is a fun sport for me, and I do not want VCD to change that feeling. Each race that I compete in I make progress towards my ultimate goal of keeping VCD under control. Some races can be more difficult than others, but I know that I am a strong person because of VCD, and can do whatever I set my mind to do.

~Amanda Loveall, High School student


  1. McKenna Daily says:

    I’m so glad i got o see this article today. I’m a Sophomore Cross Country runner with almost the same chronological story as Amanda. I finally found out this morning that the cause of my breathing difficulty was VCD and the doctor made it sound like it would be the end of my running career. After talking to a separate speech therapist and reading a few articles such as this, i feel hope that i’ll be able to rep doing the sport i love and maybe even race again at a top varsity level. i absolutely agree that awareness of this disorder is key to understanding that there are possibilities after its onset.

  2. Shasta storm says:

    I also have vcd and I’m also a high school student but I’m a freshman,for years I was told I had asthma but no medicine doctors prescribed to me worked so I saw a asthma doctor who finally had an answer…vocal cord dysfunction he set me up with a speech pathologist and prescribed me a special inhaler for things like this and said to get a counselor cause anxiety can make VCD worse after working with the speech pathologist I learned how to breathe better.and the only thing that makes it hard to breathe is allergies,but I am making strides that I never thought we’re possible.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I was diagnosed with VCD about 7 years ago. My physician had never heard of it and misdiagnosed me with asthma. When the medication made me worse, she sent me to an allergist who knew exactly what the problem was. (He also gave me an allergy test and determined I’m allergic to almost everything!) Unfortunately, he didn’t give me much information, just a couple of breathing exercises that never did much good and the casual suggestion that I could see a speech therapist if I wanted to (though he didn’t recommend one and I never went looking). All this time I have believed that it’s impossible for me to do any cardiovascular activity. Whenever I try to run or even jog, within 30 seconds I can’t breathe, and I don’t know what to do about it. It’s inspirational to read that you still find a way to run despite your VCD. I think I will finally look for a speech therapist now so I can start to better understand what is happening and what I can do to help it.

  4. I am a freshmen in high school and I am diagnosed with asthma and VCD. At first my doctors told me it was just asthma, but you can feel the difference (throat vs chest). When I have a VCD attack, it feels like someone is choking me. I think diagnosis is the key because it makes a huge difference between medicine (asthma inhalers actually make VCD attacks worse). Thanks for sharing your story and spreading the word about this problem.

  5. I recently found out that i have VCD. Originally I was given a rescue enhaler and told that I have athletic induced athsma. Now I go to a pathologist and she thinks I could have both, but we’re not sure. She told me that perfumes and smells can irratate my vocal cords. This made me think that my enhaler could just be i hurting/annoying my vocal cords. Did you stop using your enhaler?

    • You should not stop using your inhaler before consulting with your doctor. (March 11, 2015 poster) My daughter has VCD and was previously diagnosed with exercise induced asthma; the inhaler helped for a while, but when she continued to have trouble, they sent her to a pulmonologist to fully evaluate her lung function. Sounds like you need to be assessed by an asthma doctor or a pulmonology specialist to determine fully what you have. It isn’t unusual to have both, and there are inhalers that can help with VCD. If you are in an area that has a children’s hospital, they usually have specialists in lung function who could help you.

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