Larynx which is commonly known as voice box is located in the top of anterior side of neck at the level of cervical 3 to cervical 6 (C3 to C6) vertebras. Its function is to produce sound besides its involvement in breathing and protecting food particle entering into lungs. Laryngospasm is rare but frightening condition that is characterized by sudden but brief spasm of the larynx.
The spasm usually lasts for less than 60 seconds. It can occur when the patient is awake or while sleeping. Asthma, stress, gastrointestinal reflux, allergies, exercise, can trigger laryngospasm. Laryngospasm can also occur due to reaction of anesthesia. Although scary, laryngospasm is not life threatening in majority of cases.
What Are The Causes Of Laryngeal Spasms?
Laryngospasm is triggered due to many causes. The spasm of larynx is momentary condition and it reverts back to normal in majority of cases. In a way physicians believe sometime laryngospasm is useful to prevent suffocation as it prevents food and liquid accidentally entering into the lungs or blocking the air passage.
There are many other triggers that can cause laryngospasm. They include:
- Anxiety and stress are often the cause for laryngospasm.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) produces burning in the throat and middle of chest. It is caused by backup of stomach acid into the esophagus and throat. GERD occurs because of weakness in the lower esophageal spincter. Reflux can irritate the larynx which in turn may produce bout of coughing and laryngospasm.
- Laryngospasm can occur due to asthma.
- Allergies from dust and chemical fumes can trigger momentary laryngospasm.
- Laryngospasm can also develop during general anesthesia. The occurrence is common in children and asthmatics that are anesthetized during surgery.
- Injury to brain or neck can trigger neurological response to produce muscle spasm which may also include laryngospasm.
Signs And Symptoms Of Laryngospasm
During laryngospasm the person is not able to speak or breathe for few seconds. It may occur during daytime or at night when the person is sleeping. It may wake up the person from sleep due to chocking sensation. When it occurs during sleep, it is called sleep related laryngospasm.
The symptoms of laryngospasm include:
- Sudden development of laryngospasm.
- Gasping for breath
- Retraction of chest area in infants during paryngospasm.
- Cannot swallow food during this period.
- Lasts less than 60 seconds.
- Characteristic sound called stridor when the vocal cord slightly relaxes and air enters through it.
- Person becomes extremely frightened and feels as if he is not going to live.
Treatment Options For Laryngospasm
There is no medication to relax the vocal cord more quickly than to remain calm. Panicking or getting exited will worsen the situation. Person during this period must not gasp for breathe or gulp air through mouth. Few simple tricks can make you feel better.
- Hold the breath for few seconds during the episode of laryngospasm. Inhale slowly through nose and exhale through slightly open mouth. Repetition of this technique will stop the spasm.
- Hold a straw between your lips and breathe in through the straw and not through the nose. Slow breathing through the straw will help to relax the larynx.
- If GERD is causing laryngospasm, treating GERD will help to resolve frequent episodes of laryngospasm. To prevent reflux avoid eating acidic fruits and coffee as well as fried and fatty foods. Also avoid drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.
- Put wood blocks under the head side of bed to raise its angle slightly.
- Anti-anxiety medicine and psychotherapy is beneficial if stress and anxiety are the underlying causes.