Have you ever just been sitting around or going about your day when suddenly you take a breath, and you’re choking on nothing? Maybe air? Maybe spit? If you started coughing, exhaling air but struggling to inhale it in, you might have experienced a laryngospasm. It’s when you experience difficulty breathing and talking due to a muscle spasm in your vocal cords. It can also be referred to as a laryngeal spasm.
Laryngospasms feel very similar to choking because your airways end up blocked. Other symptoms you can check to determine whether you’re experiencing a laryngospasm are sudden difficulty in breathing, tightness in your throat, and occasionally, loss of consciousness.
It can be a terrifying experience and undoubtedly uncomfortable, but ultimately, it’s not all that dangerous, as it usually only lasts for a few minutes. Whenever it does happen to you, remember to stay calm. Panicking and proceeding to cough even harder can make the pain worse and last even longer. Try holding your breath for five seconds and see if it goes away after that.
If your experience lasts longer than a few minutes and you’re unable to breathe, or you hear a high-pitched wheezing sound when you breathe, go to the nearest urgent care facility immediately. While it’s mostly harmless, a laryngeal spasm can be a symptom of another, more serious condition.
What Causes Laryngospasms?
Doctors think that a laryngospasm may be a reflex to prevent drowning or suffocation. Sometimes, when we accidentally inhale food or drinks while talking, we can benefit from this spasm as it prevents the food from blocking our airway.
We commonly refer to it as something—air, food, drink, spit—“going down the wrong pipe.” However, unlike choking, there is nothing physically lodged in our throat, so there is nothing to take out or immediately stop it.
Stress and Anxiety
Some people may experience a laryngospasm in response to intense anxiety or stress. During a panic attack, hyperventilation or intense fear may trigger a laryngospasm. The tightness in the throat can then make the panic even worse.
If you’ve gone through a procedure or operation requiring you to be under anesthesia, this may also be a cause. It’s common for anesthesia to trigger laryngospasms in babies and children, especially if they have asthma or other respiratory issues. However, because you are under anesthesia, you won’t feel or even remember the incident.
Brain and nerve injuries in or near the spine and neck are common factors that can cause a laryngeal spasm. People who have suffered from these injuries will often experience muscles spasms in various areas of their bodies, including the larynx.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a syndrome that causes the stomach contents, including stomach acid, to flow back up the esophagus and into the throat. People who have had experience with GERD describe it as an intense and burning pain.
People who suffer from this condition are prone to also experiencing laryngospasms. Forceful coughing has been found to trigger these spasms as well as fainting.
The Bottom Line
Laryngospasms are very common, and most of the time, they are harmless. It’s not something you need to be particularly careful about to prevent. However, there are times when your experience might be more severe than usual. Frequent laryngeal spasms that are severe could signify a more serious condition, so be sure to get yourself checked if this is something you’re experiencing.
Agile Urgent Care is a full-service, walk-in medical facility open to all patients. We are here for injuries or illnesses that aren’t serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit but need immediate attention. Visit us in New Jersey for fast and reliable treatment whenever you need it.