“On the first day of Christmas my body gave to meeeeee…
One floppy windpipe…
Two misbehaving vocal cords…
Zero gold rings, some tricky severe asthma and a trip to see Speech and Language Therapyyyyy.”
Most people slide in to December defrosting their car and making their way through an advent calendar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling pretty festive and love all the twinkly Christmas lights but I wasn’t quite expecting the first day of advent to bring me Inducible Laryngeal Obstruction (ILO for short).
I didn’t know your vocal cords could stop you from breathing
I spent 4 years of my life studying for a degree in Biomedical Science. I’m fascinated by how the body works and am fortunate to surround myself with medically-minded friends: doctors, nurses, researchers, speech and language therapists and radiographers but I would never in my wildest of dreams have thought that my vocal cords could make me breathless.
If you’re a regular reader then you’ll remember me waxing lyrical about my saline nebuliser treatment not working and it turns out this is probably why. Essentially, we think that inhaling super-salty 7% saline solution on a daily basis has not worked wonders for my airway. Instead, it’s really irritated my upper airway along with my other sensitivities so now I’m basically coughing and breathless after any and all of the following triggers:
- changes in temperature
- smells e.g. cleaning products, perfumes, food
- speaking too much (yes really)
- eating certain types of foods
- singing (it’s never been good but it’s now impossible to do anything but croak)
Even if I’m not doing any of the above, I can have a seemingly random attack where I’m left breathless and coughing like a seal for doing nothing but breathing in and out.
It’s like the cherry on top of a really rubbish cake
Inducible laryngeal obstruction (ILO), sometimes called vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) is something that is causing me problems on top of the tracheomalacia and asthma. It’s not replacing any of those treats, it’s an added extra.
Essentially, it’s restricting my airway in and around my voicebox (larynx) around the level of my vocal cords. They are inflamed and in spasm, constricting so that I have a tiny and very narrow gap to breathe in and out of, hence the breathlessness. This is caused by the irritants listed above and seems to be happening to me 20-30 times a day as well as through the night. It’s probably been a huge factor adding to my already depleted levels of energy and my reduced quality of sleep. My vocal cords aren’t letting me catch a break at the moment which is why I appear breathless even at rest and why I never seem to feel restored after sleep.
They sprayed Lynx Africa at me in a medical examination
I was fortunate enough to have what’s called a ‘provocation laryngoscopy’ to confirm all this which is very similar to a bronchoscopy but a bit of a smaller tube and doesn’t go all the way down in to your bronchi. The provocation part seemed innocuous to me but it turns out, it wasn’t. To mimic the irritation, they genuinely got out a can of the most potent deodorant known to mankind and made the room smell like the back of a school bus. It was horrid but at least they discovered a reason behind why stuff has been so difficult lately.
I’m actually really lucky that my consultant was able to get me seen by the airways service team who slotted me in to their clinic on the day. This meant I managed to circumvent a pretty long waiting list and get seen by the right people at the right time when I was symptomatic. The team work very closely with my existing medical team, respiratory physios and other colleagues which is great. They are planning to get me in for some intensive speech and language therapy as a block this side of Christmas (fingers crossed for cancellations). They suggested speech and language therapy as some techniques may chill my vocal cords out a bit, relaxing them and allowing my airway to become less constricted. I can’t wait to see how it goes and what the rest of advent brings!