What is it?
Normally the vocal folds stay open to provide an “open gateway” while we are breathing, and they close for airway protecting with swallowing (and they close with voicing). Occasionally patients feel as if their “throat has closed off” and they can’t breathe. This is when the vocal folds close (“Laryngospasm”) during normal breathing. This often first begins at night, and can wake patients up from sleep. It can be terrifying because they wake up being unable to breathe. Typically with sitting up (sometimes drinking water), the throat relaxes and the patient can breathe again. In rare cases, the laryngospasms occur both day and night. Sometimes they are associated with triggers like perfumes, odors, and smoke, sometimes with coughing spells, and occasionally spontaneously without warning.
How is it treated?
Often “silent reflux” is an underlying cause of laryngospasm. Laryngospasm is actually a reflex that can be triggered by acid irritation and/or impulses from the esophagus. At the Voice Clinic of Indiana, our goal is to use opposing reflexes therapeutically to break the overactive laryngospasm reflex. Thus, open throat breathing exercises, customized straw breathing, and other approaches are used, often with biofeedback, until patients feel confident that they can break spells when they occur. By controlling the reflux, we often reduce the number and severity of the spells dramatically, and using our breathing techniques, patients are able to quickly break the few spells that may continue to occur.