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Young girl overcomes vocal cord dysfunction to sing again

August 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
While for many, breathing is just something done without thinking, for people diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction, it's a daily struggle. Because symptoms are so similar, it's often misdiagnosed as asthma.

Music has been part of Samantha Trattner's life since she was a little girl.

"I was known as 'The Jukebox' in preschool," said Samantha. "There's nothing in the world that makes me happier."

When she was in middle school she was diagnosed with asthma. But at the end of her sophomore year of high school her symptoms got worse. She was hospitalized and then diagnosed with vocal cord dysfunction -- a syndrome that causes asthma-like symptoms as a result of abnormal closure of the vocal cords.

Doctors told Samantha her singing days were over.

"I literally broke down and I started crying," she recalled.

Samantha refused to accept it. She went to speech pathologist Dr. Celia Santini at the Florida Hospital Sports Center and Rehab, who helped her get her voice back with simple breathing exercises.

"There's a spasm, a tightness, an involuntary contraction in spasming of the vocal cords that causes them to close," said Santini.

"She actually taught me an exercise that I like to call birthday cake. It's where you press your lips together very tightly and breath out first and then you suck a little bit of air back in and then you breath out again. And slowly you relax your lips, a little bit more each time until you're breathing normally again," Samantha described.

After a few sessions, Samantha couldn't believe the results. She took her new found confidence to the stage, winning first place at a national songwriting competition where she sang a song she wrote about her struggle with vocal cord dysfunction.

"That's the best feeling in the world, knowing that I can help someone else," said Samantha.


BACKGROUND: Although the passion of Samantha Trattner's life, it was her vocal chords that were negatively impacting her health. Vocal chord dysfunction is a hidden, yet common and usually unsuspected, condition of the throat in which one experiences a closing or choking sensation that can strike at any age. Vocal chord dysfunction (VCD) is also known as paradoxical vocal fold-motion which is characterized as an abnormal adduction of the vocal chords during the respiratory cycle. (Source: Medline Plus)

CAUSES: VCD "episodes" can be triggered suddenly, or come on gradually. Many different things can trigger an episode. The primary causes for a VCD episode are believed to be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), extra-esophageal reflux (EERD), exposure to inhaled allergens, post nasal drip, exercise, or neurological conditions that can cause difficulty inhaling only during waking. This disorder has been observed throughout the lifespan, from infants through old age, with the observation of its occurrence in infants leading clinicians to believe that a physiological cause is likely, such as reflux or allergy. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

DISTINGUISHING VCD: VCD is often characterized as being similar to asthma and is commonly treated with high-dose inhaled or systemic corticosteroids, bronchodilators, multiple emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and, in somecases, intubation. Patients with VCD can be distinguished from those with asthma because the localization of airflow obstruction to the laryngeal area. Limited opportunity exists however, when determining whether a patient has asthma or VCD because both groups have symptoms of wheezing, cough, and dyspnea. When Samantha was in middle school she was diagnosed with asthma but in high school her symptoms worsened. She was hospitalized and then diagnosed with VCD. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

SPEECH THERAPHY: Speech therapy involves teaching the patient vocal cord relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. These procedures have proved to be very successful and are combined with psychological support in difficult cases. A speech therapist effectively teaches and communicates a comprehensive speech therapy plan with appropriate breathing exercises. If the patient can not find a knowledgeable speech therapist, they can be taught a breathing relaxation exercise with the use of a simple handout. (Source: Medline Plus)

For more information, contact Ashley White at Florida Hospital by calling (407) 303-8214 or email ashley.white@flhosp.org.

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