A vocal cord spasm is insanely frightening because it prevents you from getting adequate oxygen as you struggle to breathe.
The question is if acid reflux can shoot up high enough to the throat to irritate the vocal cords.
A vocal cord spasm is known as VCD: vocal cord dysfunction. The cords are muscle.
When you speak, they are closed (adducted, or the folds being moved towards each other). This is why when you talk, you cannot simultaneoly inhale.
And it’s why when you inhale you cannot simultaneously talk. Of course, you can take breaths in between words, but you will find it impossible to literally speak while inhaling.
When you breathe, the vocal cords are abducted (folds away from each other), allowing air to go down your airway and into your lungs.
A vocal cord spasm or dysfunction is when the folds are partially or completely closed. If partially, you will feel as though your airway has suddenly narrowed.
As you inhale as hard as you can, you’ll feel the sensation of not enough air going down your “windpipe.”
And that sensation is because it’s true: It’ll be a struggle to get oxygen down there.
As you struggle to inhale, you’ll hear a wheezing sound (stridor), which won’t necessarily be high pitched or sound like a whistling. It may be lower pitched.
If you’re in a noisy environment when this happens, you may not hear anything unusual.
A paper in the journal Chest (Nov. 2010, Morris, et al) says that one possible cause of vocal cord spasm is stress or anxiety.
However, GERD (acid reflux disease) is also a possible cause of VCD, along with irritants that are breathed in and exercise.
All three causes, in fact, may occur at the same time: A person may be exercising in an environment with airborne irritants while feeling very stressed over life.
VCD is often misdiagnosed as asthma, especially if the patient’s first experience occurred during exercise (exercise induced asthma).
The medical literature is short on solid studies pertaining to the so-called vocal cord spasm.
But if you have what you believed to be an incident of VCD, you should see a doctor.
Problem is, once you’re at the doctor’s office, the dysfunction will have passed.
There are cases in which a person suffering from a complete or partial closure of the vocal cords gets to the urgent care center or ER quick enough for a scope to show the adducted cords.
But the diagnosis is generally made based on medical history and patient description of symptoms.
If the patient is incorrectly diagnosed with asthma and prescribed an inhaler, the inhaler will not work during subsequent vocal cord spasms.
When the treating physician learns of this, the diagnosis may be changed to vocal cord dysfunction.
Besides acid reflux, another possible trigger is an attempt to swallow a pill (with water) that goes wrong. The attempt briefly irritates the folds and causes them to spasm.
The individual may then erupt into a coughing fit, and attempts to inhale will feel mechanically difficult and be accompanied by stridor (which again, isn’t necessarily high pitched).
It’s frightening, and if it occurs during exercise, one might think it’s heart related. However, exercise can trigger acid reflux.
If you’re convinced that acid reflux triggers vocal cord dysfunction, make sure you see a physician who will back up this assertion, since there are no tests to verify VCD unless it’s happening during the test.