British Lung Foundation

Laryngospasm - anyone had this?

My last three exacerbations since having a cyst surgically removed from my throat have featured very frightening spasms of the larynx where it closes off completely - last winter for about 30 seconds and i thought i was dying (and I'm someone who's had asthma since early adulthood and well used to being out of breath).

Laryngospasm is not uncommon with anaesthesia and post operative states, and can happen when the larynx gets irritated, including from the mucus of colds and flu. Its sometimes called "dry drowning" and you can pass out from lack of oxygen as no breath can pass in either direction - at which point the tissue relaxes and you can breathe again as they helpfully told me at the hospital. Thank heavens that bit hasn't happened to me so far but it did land me in hospital last winter for the first time since diagnosis.

Ive been researching all day and found loads of info and a few tips to manage it but i wondered about personal experiences of anyone here? All the sites say its terrifying (i.e. for "normal" breathers) but none talk about the added problem of having it at the same time as having a lung disease and being low on oxygen - it seems to make my oxygen plummet even though there has been little infection on the lungs in each of the last three flare-ups and the spasms have been constant :(

I'd love to hear from anyone else who's had this. Any helpful suggestions hugely appreciated.

Enjoy the weekend folks :) :)

12 Replies

Hi. You're the first person I have met who has this too. I have had this many times and on all but one occasion, I was fast asleep at the time. I wake up completely and utterly unable to take a breath, usually I am bolt upright even before I am properly awake. The only way I manage it is by staying completely calm and counting slowly. Breathing returns to normal and I haven't ever passed out. On one occasion, my husband was away at the time and that was truly terrifying as I had my 3 young children asleep at the other end of the house. The last time it happened, I was walking across the garden when a tiny piece of carrot dislodged from my throat. It was so instant that I thought I would be dead before I made it to the house however it resolved itself just in time again.

My resp Consultant tells me that it can be caused by reflux among other things and, for me, it is more likely during the extreme fatigue of a flare of my lupus. I also have weak resp muscles/diaphragm ?cause and pleuritic problems. My peak flow is never more than 250 at best. Logic tells me all these are probably related but I haven't worked out how.

Things that seem to help me are not eating food late in the evening & especially not spicy/fatty foods. Managing fatigue is another one. Above all, stay calm and avoid panic. I hope this has been of some use - it is completely terrifying but identifying it has helped me hugely and my consultant tells me it is rarely dangerous. Best wishes, C


Thanks so much Clare for your reply.

Lupus is horrible, my father had it all through my teens, always very ill.

I don't get the spasms at night - awful for you and especially the time you mention alone with your children.

I have silent reflux which is implicated, so i do all the food things you mention and no caffeine (r.i.p. chocolate :( ), sleep on wedge pillow etc. It only happens during copd flare-ups and these only ever happen due to viruses and the mucus they produce. But like you say, everything is related and, causally for me, a bit "chicken and egg".

The counting is a good tip - thank you.

Something i found on the net today is to put both your arms up in the air when you feel it coming on - not much use to you if you are asleep though maybe worth trying when you become bolt awake. Ive been doing this all day and it has helped hugely - the spasms were continuous, exhausting. Just got one under control and another bout would start but they have eased for the first time for days. Mostly they don't last long, so not as bad as yours.

Good to be in touch and good luck with managing all your stuff. :)

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i often get this mainly when I am awake and eating something or coughing it sis very frightening and the first reaction is to panic as adrenaline is pouring into your system and trying to keep calm is not easy! luckily my husband has usually been near to calm me down it seems to take for ever to pass by which time I am starting to cough violently and changing colour and once passed takes a while to get back to normal my worst experience was on night duty I was midwife in charge of a ward full of mums and babies with just one health care assistant I went blue then she got me oxygen and called for help by the time help arrived I was over it and able to continue working. my mum also had this but no respiratory problems which I have so wonder if it can run in families


What a terrifying experience goldcrest. You did well to get through it, must have frightened the health care assistant too.

Glad you have your husband to help you. I hadn't thought of adrenaline but its obvious now you mention it since the spasm makes you feel like you're going to drown.

Take care :)


i have the silent reflux. thats the nick name. it has made me go to the hospital 2 times. now when it flares up i try to stay calm and drink something to remove the mucus it produces. that is what makes me out of breathe is the mucus is very thick. i am on o2 and that is an irratant for it. so i do the best to keep my acid down only i dont realize it is effecting until the reflux happens. dont panic just try and calm yourself then drink something to remove the mucus. i have never been able to cough this up. it has already damaged some of my vocal chords put lucky for me not to badly. sorry for those of you who get the ones that scare them. mine did at first but now i know they will come i have to take to many things to prevent flare ups. i also take an antacid 2 a day. dont know if it helps but hoping it does. you do learn to live with it as you learn your own bodies reaction. and some of the things that set it off or tell you you have it is very funny. once i read up on it i felt better too.


Hi tinamg, yes LPR mucus is so thick and claggy you could build things with it.

I hadn't realised that O2 is an irritant for that. Ive been on O2 off and on for over a year now and this would coincide with the time I've had the sticky mucus and the laryngospasm.

I take lansoprosole as well for barretts oesophagus and LPR though I'm not convinced it helps the LPR as several sites say that its not just acid which does the damage but pepsin and bile from the stomach also.

All this info is such a jigsaw but the bits are beginning to fit together now.

Thanks for getting back :)


I've never heard of this but it sounds terrifying. I get a less severe version sometimes from mucous in the back of the throat where it feels like I can't swallow for a few seconds. This is scary enough. I hope the new techniques help or better still that it goes away.


At the moment unlike Clare above for instance, I only get this during exacerbations. Don't think its automatic that everyone with reflux will get it.

Another thing i read to help control spams is to breathe IN slowly through the nose

(if you can of course - these sites were not usually catering for ppl with copd/bronch etc) and OUT through the mouth fast, which is opposite to what copd ppl are told to do, i.e. breathe out for twice as long as in. Im finding its helping.

Also I'm finding what i thought was standard asthma is often a reflux thing and will ease if and when I can clear the reflux mucus. I knew that theoretically but now seeing it in myself. So lots to be learnt.

But I've just now had something to eat and eating has triggered big spasms at present. Infuriating :(


Hi 02Tree, I have this but mine didn't come from an operation. I thought it was from allergies, I don't have asthma but I do have bronchiectasis. It started for me as a tinkle in my throat and the sensation increased as I coughed. Then with no warning my throat closed, I could get air out but not in. I've learned over time to just force air in and try to relax, which is not easy. My ENT Specialist said it was due to my acid reflux; however, I've been taking Nexium for some time and still have the attacks, not as often, but once is too many. The last time I was driving and that was scary. I thought I was the only one, I appreciate your post. Thx,



Yuk, that tickle, don't you hate it? makes you think you're going crazy.


I've just come out of hospital after few days in ITU on ventilator. It happens to me quite often. Midazolam often works but not on every occasion. It is reassuring knowing there is something can be done about it. Apparently I have dysfunctional vocal chords. They close off the airway instead of doing the opposite. I hate it but can't stop it from happening. Have ms as well as COPD & it has been happening for 14 years now. But, it is not something I shall ever get used to.

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My heart goes out to you Graciegirl. How could you ever get used to it, it's so scary. Especially when you have MS as well. Thanks for your contribution.


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