If you missed, "So I'm Not Losing My Mind - Part 1," you can read it here.
The day of my first follow-up, an appointment with my GI doc, I felt kind of funny walking in and when asked if I had any concerns saying, “Yeah, I read about this condition on the internet and I think I have it.” I know that sounds silly. But, I was desperate. I was willing to look like a fool for a very short period of time to get some answers. My GI doc is a very cool guy, though. He was very open-minded and told me to definitely mention to my ENT at my appointment later in the week, as he would have the ability to diagnose through a procedure in the office. We also scheduled an endoscopy to check on any potential reflux damage and Celiac evidence.
My ENT appointment was on a Thursday morning. I was the first appointment of the day and was quite nervous. Being nervous made my throat tighten up and for once I was okay with that! I wanted to be experiencing the symptoms that had plagued me for the past year almost non-stop. After my ENT checked my ears, I mentioned the symptoms I had been having and my suspected diagnosis. Much to my surprise, he said that what I was describing sounded exactly like Vocal Cord Dysfunction and proceeded to tell me all about it. I asked him why my symptoms seemed to ease up when I ate and he said, “EATING RELAXES THE VOCAL CORDS!” The pieces of the puzzle were finally starting to come together. Things were making sense. After we talked for a while about VCD my ENT went to get a scope and then did a quick procedure right in his office to confirm the diagnosis. While it wasn’t fun having this tube run up my nose and down my throat, I about jumped for joy when he confirmed that I indeed have Vocal Cord Dysfunction. I know that sounds weird, but now that I knew what was causing the symptoms, I could take action. My ENT referred me to a speech pathologist to work on ways to treat the symptoms.
Some important contributing factors:
- People with reflux have a higher incidence of VCD
- Women/girls that push themselves have a higher incidence of VCD
- Anxiety can exacerbate VCD
- The more you try to relax the vocal cords, the more tense/tight they become/feel
I met with the speech pathologist the following Monday, and while I was discouraged to have to have another tube put up my nose and down my throat, he showed me a video of my vocal cords after he was done. He was able to show me exactly how my vocal cords were not working like they were supposed to, causing the symptoms I had been experiencing. I can’t even put into words how fascinating this was! Seeing with my own eyes what was going on was oddly therapeutic. It’s almost like a switch was flipped in my head so that now when I feel those symptoms coming on, I can acknowledge them, but not hyper-focus on them to the point where I begin to panic. I can start the breathing exercises the speech pathologist taught me and hopefully work through the feeling in a short period of time.
As I left the ENT’s office that day I had a chance to reflect on all that had transpired over the past year leading up to this point. I also began to look back over my life at times where I recalled feeling like I couldn’t get a deep breath…the few incidents I mentioned in Part 1. Had this really been affecting me this whole time, but was exacerbated by anxiety when I went off of the Lexapro? Who knows. The bottom line is I now know what it is and how to treat it. Bonus…no medication needed to overcome it!
I had my endoscopy the following Monday and all looked good! YAY! My GI doc was very interested in hearing that I was indeed diagnosed with VCD.
The reason I am sharing this story is so that if you are experiencing symptoms like mine, you seek help. If the diagnosis you’ve received doesn’t seem to fit, keep digging. I love all of my doctors and am so thankful that I was able to voice my concerns and be heard. If you feel like you aren’t being heard by your physician, get a second opinion. I truly believe that we have to be our own advocates for our health. Our physicians are our partners in this journey and sometimes it is our responsibility to make sure they see the entire picture.
If you'd like more information about Vocal Cord Dysfunction please visit the Cleveland Clinic website.