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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Throat closing up

09/11/2001

Question:

My throat closes up for no apparant reason and I can`t breath. When I try to get air in all I can make is a horrible wheezing noise. Right before I almost pass out, my throat begins to relax enough where I can get a little air in. Then for about 30 minutes I have a terrible time with coughing. My throat and chest hurts for the rest of the day. This has happened off and on for about 5 years. Normally, it happens when I am swallowing food, (no particular kind). Two days ago I woke up in the morning with my throat closed. That is the first time it has happened when I was asleep. It seems to be happening more and more.

Answer:

You are describing laryngospasm. This is an involuntary closing of your vocal cords in response to some irritant. This condition is not infrequently encountered in the operating room when patients are awakening from anesthesia. The anesthesiologist has many medications and techniques available to break this reflex.

In your situation there are usually two common causes. The first is anxiety and the second is acid reflux. In some cases the two problems are seen together. Given your history, acid reflux sounds likely. One of the interesting features about acid reflux affecting your voice box is that many people never report strong histories of heartburn or indigestion. Some do have acid problems and/or hiatal hernias. Typically, people with acid reflux affecting their throats will complain of frequent throat clearing, mucus draining into their throats (commonly thought of as sinus drainage), some hoarseness, cough and maybe some trouble swallowing. I suggest that you see your medical doctor to discuss this further. A visit with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor is also a good idea to make sure that there is nothing more serious in your throat or voice box causing your symptoms. Good luck.

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Response by:

Keith M Wilson, MD Keith M Wilson, MD
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Head and Neck Division
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati