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.

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. However, some antacids (tablets that disintegrate or powder antacids) can encourage a laryngospasm episode themselves. This is possible because when they disintegrate in the mouth, they may leave grainy particles stuck to the throat. These particles may dry out the mucous membrane and lead to an episode.

If acid reflux is responsible for your laryngospasms and the tablet or powder antacids dry out your throat, talk to your doctor about a better alternative for you. Drinking a bit of room temperature water after taking the antacid can help wash down any particles potentially stuck to your throat lining. Also, 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.

Laryngospasm remedies

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. Also, as a general rule, it migth be best to avoid sitting or sleeping next to a radiator, convector or other heating device that might also blow warm air because it can dry out your throat faster and encourage an episode (I speak from experience).

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 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. For me, naturally sparkling water is sometimes more effective than still water because of its bubbles which seem to help my airways open quicker. Moreover, I feel that sparkling water is better and more efficient at inactivating allergens or washing down bothersome substances.

Make sure you have a glass or bottle of water within arm’s reach at all times or carry a small 500 ml bottle with you all the time, especially when doing outdoor activities. 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. I take vitamin C every day because it also helps me control my allergies.

Conclusion. 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.




55 Replies to “Laryngospasm: Symptoms, Causes and Remedies”

  1. Just a couple of small tips I read elsewhere and which helped a bit with laryngospasms: during a laryngospasm, put you fingertips behind your earlobe on your neck and press hard. It’s called the Larson Manoevre (Larson Maneuver). Also, after a laryngospasm, or before if you get warning and the airways feel tight, close the mouth and sniff hard. You should find this helps a little to free the airway.

    • Thank you for the tips, Marie. I am confident many people will find your advice useful and maybe get over laryngospasms a little bit easier. Wishing you lots of health.

  2. Hi Marius and thank you for your reply. Today my voice seemed much better, the best in weeks and I met up with a friend which unfortunately involved lots of talking although I was limited by how much I could speak. Alas since being home I have coughed more and had more laryngospasms so the lesson here has been learnt the hard way and I’m back to square one. It’s easy to just talk when you feel and sound better but utterly soul destroying to have the spasms back as frequently as they were a few weeks ago. Clearly silence for me will have to be the way forward.
    Regarding the acid thing, if I do have it then it’s the silent type and I feel disheartened having to take meds for something I may not have. Whilst GERD seems to be the main cause of chronic laryngitis and laryngospasms, I feel sure my problems was caused by violent coughing over a prolonged period, even though the doctor could not see an obvious injury. It may of course be silent GERD which coincidentally has flared up. I am looking at how to mitigate acidity in my diet and also looking to lose a few pounds too. Thanks again. Best wishes and good health to you too.

    • Hi Marie,

      I am experiencing the same symptoms as you described. I had a cough for several weeks and then last week when I started coughing, I had the laryngospasms. This week my coughing has reduced greatly but still have spasms when I cough or today had one when I sneezed. I am going to see an ENT tomorrow and hoping to figure this out.

  3. Hello, about 6 weeks ago I started having a light cough which started getting worse over the next week. After about 10 days I went to Urgent Care and was prescribed Mucinex and something that was suppose to stop post nasal drip and was told to return if the cough didn’t stop in next 10 days. It didn’t help and was than prescribed antibiotics which didn’t help. So into the 4th week I started waking up in middle of the night gasping for air. I did this for 3 nights and than started sleeping in a chair which did help. I am now having these episodes several times a day but can mostly control them by breathing slowly through the nose and calming myself. The night time ones are another story because they are more severe. I went to a ENT which said it was my acid reflux and told me to take Nexium OTC 3 times a day and elevate the head of my bed 6 inches. That was 6 days ago and it really hasn’t helped but I am hoping it is something that needs time to heal. I return to the ENT Doctor in 17 more days. I am also watching what I eat and I don’t eat anything after 5:30 PM. At this point the cough seems to be loosing up and not so dry but laryngospasms continue. I really hate the night ones. I am 60 years old and this is the first time I’ve experienced something like this.

    • I am sorry to hear about this, Michael. It seems you started having laryngospasms because of a bad acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when, for some reason, stomach juices rise up into the esophagus and sometimes as far up as the mouth. This damages the fine mucous lining and even affects the vocal cords, potentially causing hoarseness, coughing, burning sensation and laryngospasms. The reason why laryngospasms happen at night or seem to be worse during the night is because you are lying in bed which makes it easier for stomach juices to escape into the esophagus. It also takes longer for you to feel the acidity and wake up from it. Sometimes, it is not strong enough to wake you up, but still damages the esophagus. It is important to take the medication your doctor prescribed as recommended to reduces the production of stomach acid and allow the esophagus to repair itself. It’s just as important to learn what foods to eat and what foods to avoid for acid reflux.

      From my own experience with acidity, gastritis and laryngospasms, coffee, caffeinated foods and beverages, chocolate, cocoa, green tea, black tea, white tea, alcohol are the worst foods. You can read more about what to eat and what to avoid for stomach acidity in the article here. Also, there are other lifestyle tips on how to reduce the effects to stomach acidity in the article here. For example, drinking water as soon as you feel stomach juices rising into the esophagus helps wash them down and reduce damage. What I did to manage my severe gastritis and relentless acid reflux was to complete my treatment with proton pump inhibitors and eat right. My safe foods were boiled foods for the most part, like soft boiled eggs, potatoes, spinach, chicken, rice and a few others. What I can tell you from my experience is that you can’t make dietary mistakes at this point because even a cup of coffee or a little chocolate can cause a big setback and one post-meal acid reflux episode can take you back weeks. Your esophagus needs time to heal completely and a strict diet can help you achieve that. To manage the laryngospasms, read the article above and the comments and maybe you will find useful information from other people’s experiences too. It does come as a surprise and is quite disconcerting to get laryngospasms later in life, but, fortunately, they can be managed and in many cases they even disappear completely after the causes are dealt with, in your case stomach acidity. Hope this helps and wishing you lots of health.

  4. My 15 year old son started getting laryngospasms 3 weeks ago. The first one happened during the day while at a baseball game. We thought he was choking on “Dippin dots” and that it was an isolated incident. He had had a bad cough for at least 2 months leading up the the first episode and he was treated with prednisone and antibiotics. The cough got better but never went completely away. Then a little over a week ago he woke up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. We called 911, by time they got here the episode had resolved itself. It is notable to say when he was finally able to catch his breath it happened simultaneously while expelling quite a bit of saliva or mucus. Went to emergency room, all vitals good and chest and throat X-ray normal. 6 nights later he had another episode, waking up in the middle of the night. This time it was less chaotic as we knew what was happening. Same scenario when he finally caught his breath and he expelled a lot of saliva or mucus. However around 15 minutes later he had a second episode. The second episode wasn’t nearly as bad as the first. Wondering if whooping cough could have been missed in his initial diagnosis. He says he does feel any type of acid reflux. Currently on second round of prednisone, Mucinex, Flonase and Zyrtec. Prior to this no known allergies. Anyone else experience the saliva or mucus issue?

    • I am sorry to hear about this. It must be difficult for you and your family to be dealing with this situation. If you are unsure of the diagnosis or suspect another, you can always ask for a second opinion. It’s actually advisable. Laryngospasms themselves can be difficult to manage and scary when they occur because they leave you breathless. If your son has been prescribed allergy medication, then you should see an allergist and see if he has any allergies. Mold, dust, pollen, food allergies are all possible. If the laryngospasms happen during a certain season, it can be allergies. If they occur mostly in the house, it could be a mold allergy. If you’ve recently hot a pet, the pet hair might be an allergy trigger too. It could be a bacterial cause together with an allergy, which is why you need to investigate this further with a specialist. As for the acid reflux, it can be silent too, meaning he won’t be having any symptoms, but the stomach juices still rise into the esophagus and cause damage to the lining. If the laryngospasms occur mostly at night, acid reflux is definitely a possibility because the horizontal sleeping position allows for stomach juices to rise into the esophagus easier. The mucus is also a symptom to be taken into consideration. Excess phlegm or mucus can be a result of allergies, bacterial infections of the lungs, sinuses etc. It could gather in the lungs, the nose, drip on the back of the throat etc. What color is the mucus? Is it clear white, yellow, brown, clear with gray streaks or other color? In any case, to manage laryngospasms, make sure he stays well hydrated, the air in the house isn’t too dry (maybe get a vaporizer if it is), he avoids foods that cause acid reflux and consider other aspects presented in the article. And investigate the matter further with specialists. Wishing you lots of health.

  5. I am having same symptoms as others here. Had a cough for several weeks and last week started having laryngospasms when I cough and today when I sneezed. I am being tested for whooping cough and also have an appt with ENT dr tomorrow. The anxiety is as bad as the spasms and my dr has increased my Lexapro and also has me in antibiotics. I have read that magnesium deficiency can cause these so started taking that as well.

    • Hello, Shelly. I am sorry to hear you are experiencing laryngospasms. Hopefully, your doctor will help shed some light on things. My question: have you considered acid reflux? Every medication upsets the stomach and can cause acid reflux. Antibiotics are the best example of medication causing acidity. Maybe your laryngospasms started out as a result of a cough, allergy or other cause, but they may continue or get worse now with the antibiotics on top of the other medication. Ask the doctor about this during your appointment. Also, what I can tell you from experience, it is great to always have a bottle of water with you, either still water or, better yet, sparkling water. The bubbles in the sparkling water work almost instantly when you’re having a laryngospasm. Also, try to avoid anything that might irritate the vocal cords or throat lining, such as coffee, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, spicy foods, too much dairy (dairy thickens saliva, making it more likely for allergens to get stuck to the throat lining; it also causes acid reflux), smoke of any kind. Ask the specialist more about the potential causes of your laryngospasms and how you can best avoid them. In my experience, vitamin C also helps with laryngospasms, especially those caused by allergens exposure. Hope to hear back from you with good news and wishing you lots of health.

  6. A bit of an update from me, my laryngospasms have greatly reduced. The reason is my cough has gone. I was coughing for nearly 8 weeks, the most violent coughing ever which not only affected my larynx in terms of me losing my voice, but it also irritated the nerves in the larynx, hence the spasms. Every little thing as well as a cough triggered a spasm, be it a yawn, deep breath, laugh (not that I’ve had anything to laugh about).
    Whilst acid reflux will not help, if you have had prolonged violent coughing you may need to just learn how to deal with the spasms and they will ease once the cough goes.
    I am still prone to the laryngospasms but I know what can trigger them so I try to prepare. The Larson Manoevre is an essential and simple way of breaking the spasm and giving you back some control.
    Learning how to breath during a spasm and keeping panic under control is also essential.

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