Laryngospasm: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies

Laryngospasm: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies. Laryngospasm is a rather common medical condition characterized by an involuntary contraction of the vocal cords that causes a brief and partial breathing blockage. While the blockage lasts less than a minute and only prevents breathing in (not breathing out), the fact that it catches people by surprise may result in panic.

This is especially true for small children as well as first time sufferers. Laryngospasm is often accompanied by symptoms such as stridor (a high-pitched sound during inspiration), difficulty breathing in, air hunger, retractions of the chest wall due to reduced air pressure inside the chest as a result of the breathing blockage as well as fear, anxiety and panic attacks due to experiencing a feeling of imminent death. Some people may experience watery eyes and sudden and excessive sweating.

Laryngospasm

Laryngospasms can occur both in children and adults, both during the day and during the night. In the latter case, they are often triggered by acid reflux and will most likely cause sufferers to wake up from their sleep. When it comes to children, laryngospasm represents a potentially serious medical condition that needs to be addressed by a medical professional immediately. Children are much more susceptible to oxygen deprivation and lack the control needed to manage the breathing blockage.

Types of laryngospasm. The condition can be classified as minor laryngospasm and illness-induced laryngospasm. The former occurs and resolves by itself and sufferers are advised to keep calm and breathe slowly until the attack passes. Drinking water can also help clear allergens. The latter can be a result of illness affecting the airways, acid reflux, allergy, hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels), anesthesia or various medical procedures acting on the vocal folds. In this case, sufferers need to address the cause of their laryngospasm attack such as taking acid reflux medication or keeping away from potential irritants or allergens.

Laryngospasm remedies What are the causes of laryngospasm?
1) Gastroesophageal reflux. Laryngospasm occurring especially at night is often caused by gastroesophageal reflux or acid reflux. If your healthcare provider suspects acid reflux is causing your laryngospasm, he or she can prescribe special medication (antacids) to treat the condition causing the laryngospasm. When dealing with a midnight laryngospasm attack, remember to keep calm, breathe slowly and drink water at regular intervals. It is important that the water be at room temperature.

2) Low humidity. Low humidity in your home means the air might be too dry and this may trigger laryngospasms. A good night’s sleep requires air moisture to be between 40% and 50%. While setting pots of water on radiators or stoves or leaving damp clothes to dry in the room might create a little bit more humidity, you can achieve more by purchasing a good humidifier. The use of indoor heating during winter in particular can make air humidity drop as low as 10%, in which case you will need a good humidifier to help prevent the lining of your throat (and nose) from drying and causing laryngospasms.

3) Sore and dry throat. Everytime our throat lining becomes dry and sore, we are at risk for laryngospasms. Contracting the flu or a common cold or any other respiratory disease for that matter will most likely cause a sore throat, while air pollutants, irritant substances, pollen, allergens, cigarette smoke or swallowing salty sea water will cause your throat lining to dry out. Practicing good hygiene, avoiding going out on hot and dry, windy days and staying away from irritants can significantly help reduce laryngospasm frequency.

While keeping yourself away from irritants, allergens, cigarette smoke, maintaining good humidy levels in your home and avoiding outdoor activities on dry, windy days can be great ways of reducing the risk for laryngospasm, it is just as important to know how to act when you feel your airways are closing and you cannot breathe properly.
So here are 7 great useful tricks and remedies for dealing with laryngospasm:

1) Keep calm and breathe slowly. Keping as calm as possible when having a laryngospasm not only helps you better assess the situation and see if you should seek medical help or not, but also allows you to preserve your energy, sanity and control over your breathing. Panicking can increase your oxygen need and, since you are already not getting enough air, it might just make things worse. Reember to avoid talking, unnecessary movements or physical effort.

2) Drink water. Slowly sipping on room-temperature mineral water (not sparkling water) when having a laryngospasm is extremely important. More often than not, laryngospasms are triggered by allergens or irritants acting directly on the throat lining. Water helps render such substances inactive which can stop the spasm almost immediately. Make sure you have a glass of water within arm’s reach at all times. Also, make sure the water is at room temperate so you don’t stress your larynx even more.

3) Hot steam. In the event of a severe crisis, get some water and go straight to the bathroom. Turn the hot water on in the shower, sink, etc. and let it fill the bathroom with hot steam. The entire bathroom should fill with steam in less than a minute. Not only will the hot steam increase air humidity to a maximum, allowing you to breathe better, but it will also help inactivate allergens and irritants from your hair, throat, nose and clothes. Sip water slowly and try to relax and breathe the steam into your lungs. After the crisis has passed, remember to change your clothes (which may also contain allergens) and keep well hydrated.

4) Pay attention to colds and flu. Laryngospasms may occur with greater frequency when you cough or when your throat is full of phlegm due to a cold, for example. Practicing good hygiene and staying away from crowded places in flu season can make a great difference when it comes to preventing laryngospasm.

5) Treat your gastric reflux. Seen that acid reflux is a major trigger for laryngospasm, make sure you treat the condition properly by taking antacid medication prescribed by your doctor. Also, remember to never lie in bed as soon as you’ve eaten (digest first, then sleep) and learn to avoid the foods and beverages that may irritate your throat and stomach lining (spicy foods or foods that you might find particularly hard to digest, such as bell peppers or garlic; coffee, sodas).

6) Drink herbal teas. Drinking a not-too-hot cup of tea every now and then can have a beneficial effect on your vocal cords, helping them relax and reducing laryngospasm occurrence. Herbal infusions made from camomile, echinacea, lavender or Rooibos, for example, help relax your throat area and reduce inflammation that may contribute to worsening the condition.

7) Take your vitamin C. I speak from experience when I say that taking vitamin C supplements daily can improve your health considerably, especially when it comes to laryngospasm, asthma or allergies. If you feel your throat and vocal cords are irritated or inflammed due to exposure to allergens, cigarette or any kind of smoke, irritants and so on, pour youself some water and take an effervescent vitamin C tablet of 1000 mg. The water will help inactivate allergens, while vitamin C will act as a potent local anti-inflammatory that can potentially prevent a laryngospasm crisis.

While it is a serious medical condition, laryngospasm can not only be kept under control, but also successfully prevented, should you learn to avoid the causes triggering it. Remember to remain calm, breathe slowly, avoid talking, turn on your hot water faucet in the shower and let steam fill the bathroom and drink room-temperature water in sips. Should you feel, at any point, overwhelmed, ask for medical help.




18 thoughts on “Laryngospasm: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies

  1. I have recurrent episodes of Laryngospasm due to a Neurological condition known as Kennedy’s Disease. My Bulbar region muscles are affected which causes the spasm. My spasms often last for several minutes. Your statement stating they last for less than a minute is incorrect.

    • Hello, Mr. Mager. You are suffering from a type of illness-induced laryngospasm, in your case, Kennedy’s Disease. This is a progressive neurological and muscular disease, meaning the symptoms of the disease will get worse in time, as your condition progresseses. In other words, yours is a particular case I have not addressed in my article. Laryngospasms generally last for about one minute. Your condition is not called laryngospasm; your condition is called Kennedy’s Disease and it comes with its own set of symptoms. In reality, what you are experiencing is a form of muscular atrophy. Lots of health.

  2. I had laryngospasms for three months. The episodes occurred day and night. I slept with a humidifier every night and even spent a lot of time breathing in warm humidified air from the steam in the shower.

    With all of the reports about humidifiers forcing out bacteria a minerals, is it possible my humidifier was making matters worse? I have since replaced the humidifier I was using with a evaporative one that does not emit bacteria or white dust. Since that change I haven’t had any respiratory issues. Neither has my wife. I even put a smaller version of the same evaporative humidifier in my 2 year old daughters room and she hasn’t had any congestion or respiratory issues in almost a year. That’s incredible considering the amount of episodes she had in her first year.

    Again, is it just a coincidence or was my standard humidifier part of the problem?

    • Standard humidifers can raise the humidity in a room to higher levels than recommended or needed. Evaporative humidifiers generally have a sort of self-regulation mechanism meaning they should decrease their vapor output as the humidity in the room raises. It really depends on the brand and model and you should choose one according to your needs. To my knowledge, if you suffer from laryngospasms or allergies, then vaporizers may prove a better choice because they release steam, which is basically a sort of warm vapor. And this is better than the cold vapor or cold mist of some humidifiers. But changing a standard humidifier with an evaporative one could explain why your health has improved. Too much humidity, which can be caused by a standard humidifier, creates the perfect environment for mold and dust mites growth which can, of course, prove problematic for people with certain allergies and laryngospasms. Is it also possible that you are allergic to dust or dust mites, maybe mold or even polen from certain plant species? Because if you are, then your first humidifer might have put all of these potential allergens out there for you the breathe them. In any case, always go for a good brand and quality humidifiers, evaporators or vaporizers, even if they might be more expensive than you would like them to be. And remember to check their instructions because some may require cleaning in between uses. I do not know what type of humidifer you have been using, during what period of time your laryngospasms occurred so, yeah, it might have been the humidifer itself or something else such as allergens.

  3. Happened a few days ago while out at the grocery store. I’ve never had one as bad as this one (total 100% no air). I always thought it was normal to choke easily. It wasn’t until I got home and googled it that I realize this is exactly what I have. I always thought how can I suddenly choke on nothing? After being totally embarrassed at the grocery store and people calling 911 for me, I realized this can’t be normal. No one ever talks about this. There are probably so many others like me who have no idea that is what’s happening. What’s even more scary is that I’ve had surgeries and there could have been some danger involved and the doctor should know I have this.

    • Hi, Maria. Laryngospasms can be worrisome and it would be wise to talk to your doctor about this and maybe investigate it further to exclude potential allergies and simply know what you should avoid in the future. It could have been the air conditioning and dry air in the grocery store, dehydration leading to dry throat and so on. But just to be sure and avoid such episodes that are not at all pleasant and might leave you fearing the next one, it might be best to try and figure out what is causing your laryngospasms so you can learn to control and prevent them. Wishing you lots of health.

  4. Hello. I recently had this happen to me and I was freaking out and I see that it says drink room temperature water. Will that help? Because I was trying to gasp for air and the water part doesn’t seem too good. I’m just new to this and worried about it.

    • Hello, Chris. It is best you see a doctor and have him or her investigate the cause of your laryngospasms because there are so many factors that can trigger episodes. You have to know the cause of your laryngospasms to know how to manage and prevent them. Drinking room temperature water helps most when laryngospasms are caused by dry throat and mouth, however, you don’t know if this is your case. There are numerous aspects to consider, such as giving up coffee or alcohol, smoking, caffeinated beverages, dark chocolate, green and black tea and other stimulant foods and drinks or things that promote vitamin and dietary mineral deficiencies. For example, coffee dehydrates, drying out sensitive mucous membranes, potentially leading to laryngospasms. It also depletes us of essential dietary minerals such as magnesium and potassium, but also B vitamins, all of which may play a role in preventing, treating and managing the condition. I found it incredibly helpful to supplement with magnesium and potassium daily, but also took B vitamins regularly and have seen wonderful results. Again, talk to your doctor first and investigate the issue further so you can know what action to take. Wishing you lots of health.

  5. Recently I had laryngospasm twice in 3 months. I got the feeling that I was about to die. But after some time I started to speak again. Normally it lasts for 45-60 seconds..but experience is terrible. Is it fatal? I have read somewhere that it gets resolved automatically and it’s not life threatening.

    • Hello, Anup. If you have laryngospasms, it might be best to go see a doctor and find out what is causing them. It may be stress, acid reflux disease, anxiety or allergies and so on. Because while laryngospasms themselves are generally not life threatening, they may cause complications for other conditions, which may be dangerous. For instance, if someone has asthma, a laryngospasm episode can trigger an asthma attack which can be life threatening. This is why it is important to see a doctor and know what is triggering your episodes so you can know how to prevent them in the future.

  6. Do antibiotics and/or high cholesterol medications cause laryngospasms. I’ve never experienced them in 53 years and have had 3 within the past week. One was when I was swallowing an antacid, one when I was swallowing a potato chip and the other when I was swallowing popcorn. I sipped water and they dissipated but prior to that I felt like I was not going to catch my breath. I gasped severely to breath. Is there a particular position I should be in if I can stop the panic enough to think?

    • Hi, Sherri. Antacids can cause laryngospasms, particularly the solid units, such as the disk-shaped Maalox. The tablet tends to disintegrate in the mouth and the tiny, dust-like particles get stuck on the mucous membrane of the throat. Antacids are formulated in such a way that they absorb moisture, so they absorb saliva as well and thus dry out the mouth and the back of the throat, potentially triggering laryngospasms in predisposed individuals. You can try a liquid form of antacids and see how it works for you. Potato chips and popcorn can also lead to a laryngospasm episode for the same reason: they break down in tiny pieces and stick to various parts of the mouth and throat mucous membranes. The trouble with them is that they also generally contain salt which will irritate the mucous membrane further and extract the moisture from it, leaving it dry and inflammed. As you may already know, a dry mucous membrane (dry back of the mouth, dry throat) can lead to laryngospasms as well. It’s important not to panic and always have water at hand to help wash down anything that might irritate your throat. In time, you will learn which foods you can eat safely and which it might be best to avoid. As for antibiotics and statins, they don’t list side effects such as laryngospasms, but they can create the circumstances for laryngospasm episodes. Antibiotics destroy the good bacteria in the stomach and can cause or worsen acid reflux. Stomach acid can go up the esophagus, irritate the throat and cause a laryngospasm episode. Cholesterol medication may have a similar effect on digestive health and engender laryngospams. As for the position, try not to eat in bed. Stand upright in a chair, eat slowly and make sure you have water with you to help wash down any problematic foods.

  7. Over the course of many years, I’ve experienced these episodes occasionally. But recently, more frequently especially when I am drinking water. I also have Sjögren’s syndrome and am wondering if it’s connected as Sjogrens does dry up mucus membranes and depletes saliva. I have not mentioned these episodes to any of my doctors, but now I’m terrified because I have to swallow many pills on a daily basis for Sjogrens, acid reflux and a rare neurological disorder NMO. Now, every time I have to take a pill I get more and more anxious which I realize is just making it worse. Any suggestions or thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi again, Barbara. It appears your second comment appeared first in my comment box. But no matter. The autoimmune disorder you have, Sjogren’s syndrome, is most likely a main trigger of laryngospasms because it causes a decrease in saliva production and subsequent drying of the mouth and throat mucous membranes. It would be best if you saw a doctor, preferably an immunologist (a medical professional specialised in autoimmune disorders), and describe to him or her all of the symptoms you have been experiencing. Both your conditions, Sjogren’s syndrome and neuromyelitis optica, are autoimmune so you would get the most benefis from seeing such a specialist. Remember that it’s always best to tell your doctor everything, even if it doesn’t seem important to you. Also, the fact that you are taking multiple medications can encourage a vicious cycle. All the medication you are taking can easily cause acid reflux and taking acid reflux medication can contribute to your laryngospasms. Your other medication can too.
      As far as solutions are concerned, I’m thinking you have to keep yourself very well hydrated, especially with the Sjogren’s. I always have a 500 ml bottle of water with me wherever I go and always take sips so my mouth and throat don’t dry out. Recently I have discovered that sports drinks with magnesium and other electrolytes help me stay hydrated better when water just doesn’t seem enough. I also take magnesium and potassium supplements every day and I find they help me so much with anxiety and stress. Whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed, upset, nervous for no apparent reason or anxious about an upcoming event, I take a 300 mg dose of powder carbonate magnesium and I feel so much better in less than 20 minutes. But before you take anything, ask a doctor if it’s okay with the medication you are taking, so there aren’t any side effects or nasty interactions. You can ask your doctor about vitamin and mineral supplementation with your conditions because it’s known that nutrient deficiencies alter immune system function, so correcting potential deficits may improve certain aspects of one’s health. I would also try to avoid common laryngospasms triggers such as spicy foods, coffee and caffeinated beverages, alcohol, cigarette smoke, even potential allergens. Hope this helps. Wishing you lots of health.

    • Hi, Barbara. It is possible for this medication to cause laryngospasm. If you take tablets that disintegrate in the mouth or the powder form, they will most likely leave grainy particles stuck to your throat and these particles can dry up the mucous membrane lining the back of the mouth and the throat and cause irritation and possibly trigger a laryngospasm episode. But even so, all forms of this medication (oral suspension, disintegrating tablets, powder and delayed release capsule) have side effects that may encourage laryngospasms. For example, Prevacid (lansoprazole) is said to cause side effects such as abdominal discomfort, belching, bloating, increased cough, hoarseness, dry mouth and throat and sore throat. Any of them can encourage a laryngospasm episode. Bloating and belching cause pressure in the stomach. As a result of this pressure, the lower esophageal sphincter (a muscly junction between the esophagus and the stomach that closes off the stomach so acid doesn’t rise up into the esophagus) opens to let the air out. But along with air, stomach acid may escape into the esophagus as well, causing inflammation and irritation which may play a role in triggering laryngospasms. Increased cough and hoarseness may be indicative of irritation of the throat lining and lead to a higher probability of laryngospasms. Dry mouth, dry throat and sore throat are potential triggers as well. It really depends on how long you have been using the medication, the dosage you have been prescribed, how well you respond to it (some people have many side effects, while for others it works wonderfully) and whether or not you suffer from other medical conditions.

  8. Thank you for your response. i have been on Prevacid for 10 years. In addition, I have Sjögren’s syndrome and a rare neurological condition Devic’s disease/NMO. I realize after reading all this, sjogrens is probably triggering the spasms? Due to these conditions, I must take up to 12 pills a day plus supplements. I am getting increasingly anxious over swallowing my pills now as I worry the water will trigger the spasms when I’m swallowing the pill! These spasms primarily happen when I am in the midst of drinking a gulp of water, not so much sipping. I don’t know what to do, as I must have those medications! But everyday it is getting harder and harder. What should I do?

    • It is possible that you are projecting your anxiety on water, instead of projecting it on another more valid concern, the fact that your laryngospasms are becoming more frequent than before. This is why I believe it is best to talk to an immunologist, or other medical professional of your choice, about having laryngospasms with your conditions. Such a medical professional understands best how your conditions work and what interactions or side effects your medication might have and even shed some light on the cause of your laryngospasms. They may very well be related to your conditions or the medication you are taking. Moreover, an open discussion with a doctor about everything that worries you concerning your health and your symptoms can be very liberating and may even help tone down the anxiety of this whole situation. By expressing your concerns and worries and discussing your symptoms and your conditions openly, you can find the support you need. It may come in the form of encouragement, advice about how to take your medication better or the possibility of taking an oral suspension instead of tablets, for example.
      As for the anxiety, I find it helps to take one little step at a time and start by rethinking the validity of your concerns. That’s what I do. Anxiety is something that makes you fear what might happen. And the fear of a very remote possibility suddenly becomes very real. And then the brain somehow obsesses on this specific fear and makes something huge out of it. For me, it works to distract myself with something I enjoy up until I have to do what I stress about. It also helps me to just talk about my very unusual fears to someone and have that someone just listen without judging or offering advice on how to deal with them. And I try not to avoid what I fear so I push myself to deal with it because I know that after enough times, it just won’t be that scary and that gives me courage. You already drink water all day and have taken these pills for many years and you are still here. So those big gulps of water didn’t do any harm. They helped. They helped you take the medication you need. Think about this when you worry about having to take your medication. Think about water as the good guy who helps you. It helped you when you had laryngospasms. It helps with your condition. It’s a process and fear doesn’t just go away, but when you face your fears enough times, they are no longer that scary. And see a doctor to rule out potential side effects (laryngospasms) of medication. Hope this helps.

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