Could our vocal cords cause chronic cough?

May 19 2020

Chronic cough is a common and very distressing symptom that affects one in 10 Australians. It refers to a cough that lasts for two months or more, and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life.
In the current COVID-19 world people with a chronic cough can feel even more stigmatised, which is why a team of HMRI-affiliated researchers are calling for better treatment approaches for chronic cough.

Working with John Hunter Hospital colleague and University of Newcastle respiratory staff specialist, Professor Peter Gibson, Speech Pathologist Dr Anne Vertigan has identified that a disorder of the larynx, known as Vocal Cord Dysfunction, (VCD) is implicated in a number of patients with chronic cough.
VCD was initially thought of as a mimic of asthma as it causes breathing difficultly as the vocal cords close excessively, however, unlike asthma, VCD is not an allergic response.
“We know that VCD can be treated effectively by speech pathology intervention,” Dr Vertigan says. “In our recent study we found that patients with a refactory cough also had abnormal function of the larynx. This is a key part of our airway, yet it tends to be forgotten by many doctors.”

In this study of 51 patients with VCD and a comparison of 39 patients with chronic cough, the team discovered that many patients shared similar patterns of breathing abnormalities and cough frequency.
“Since cough and VCD symptoms co-occur, clinicians need to consider cough when they are treating VCD and VCD when treating cough,” Dr Vertigan explains.

Dr Vertigan has dedicated her career to improving outcomes for patients with chronic cough. By understanding the underlying abnormalities associated with chronic cough, Dr Vertigan aims to provide better treatment for people living with the condition.
“We are now looking to develop further treatments which involve speech pathology to lead to better outcomes for patients with chronic cough.”

The research has been published in the leading International Journal Respiratory Medicine.