Functional respiratory disorders

Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1997 Aug;79(2):91-9; quiz 99-101. doi: 10.1016/S1081-1206(10)63094-3.


Learning objectives: Reading this article will enable health care providers to recognize and to diagnose paroxysmal sneezing, sighing dyspnea, habit cough, and vocal cord dysfunction and to reinforce their knowledge of the epidemiology, etiopathology, clinical features, and treatment of these disorders.

Data sources: The literature was reviewed using a MEDLINE search for information relating to the above-mentioned disorders. Indexing terms used included psychogenic wheezing, vocal cord dysfunction, functional respiratory disorders, sighing dyspnea, paroxysmal sneezing, habit cough, and psychogenic stridor. Review was restricted to English language articles from 1966 onward, with cross-referencing to obtain older references.

Study selection: All human studies that clearly identified the above-mentioned disorders as being nonorganic on the basis of historic and appropriate laboratory evaluation were reviewed. No studies were rejected on the basis of subject age, although special emphasis was given to articles concerning children and adolescents (<18 years old). Of all initially identified studies, 95% fulfilled the inclusion criteria.

Results: Functional respiratory disorders are common and affect mostly children, adolescents, and young adults, resulting in considerable morbidity and contributing significantly to patient and physician cost and frustration. A history of a psychiatric disorder with temporally related psychogenic stressors is frequently found. Professionals disagree on the technical classification of some of these conditions (ie, psychosomatic versus somatoform), but there is agreement that treatment directed toward underlying stressors should be the cornerstone of therapy.

Conclusions: Functional respiratory disorders must be considered in patients with atypical symptoms, especially those resistant to conventional therapy. Possible psychogenic stressors must be inquired into and, when identified, treated in a multidisciplinary manner. This may involve reassurance regarding the absence of significant organic abnormality, counseling, and occasional recourse to formal psychiatric intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders
  • Respiration Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Respiration Disorders / psychology*