An unusual disorder, laryngospasm (luh-RING-go-spaz-um), is often difficult to diagnose. This disorder occurs when the vocal cords spasm and make it difficult to speak or breathe. This may be alarming, but it is not life-threatening and generally only lasts less than a minute. When happening, it will seem like the longest minute of your life. It is not the same as a mechanical obstruction, such as food or a foreign object blocking the airway.
It is usually triggered randomly by food, or even liquids, touching the vocal cords when swallowing. It can also be caused by GERD, and can happen while sleeping if acid refluxes into the upper esophagus. Please take a few moments to view this video of a laryngospasm in progress:
What Causes Laryngospasm?
Vocal cords are located in the upper part of the airway. This area is called the voice box or larnyx. There can be many different causes of a vocal cord spasm and certain conditions or factors can be triggers. It is not caused by food or a foreign body lodged in the throat.
Factors or Triggers
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is a condition when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. This can cause extreme discomfort and heartburn symptoms.
- Laryngopharyngeal reflux- which is when the stomach acid backs up into the throat or nasal passages.
- Anxiety or Stress
- Swallowed food or liquid touching the vocal cords.
- Intubation in the operating room
- Post-nasal drip
When the vocal cords spasm, it can become very difficult to breathe. Those symptoms are similar to other conditions such as asthma, exercise-induced asthma, and some other vocal cord disruptions. If the diagnosis of laryngospasm is unclear, it is important to check the condition out more thoroughly to eliminate the possibility for the common disorders with similar symptoms.
Symptoms can occur in the daytime or the middle of the night. During an episode, the individual is unable to breathe or speak, and is able to only make the sounds you hear on the video. This can be mistaken for something lodged in the airway. If occurring during the evening, the person may suddenly awaken feeling as though they are being suffocated.
Symptoms to Look Out For
- Sudden abrupt onset
- suprasternal, supracostal retractions in infants/young children
- nasal flaring in infants and young children
- difficulty swallowing or clearing the throat
- GERD symptoms
Laryngospasm occurs as a result of something coming into contact with the vocal cords, whether reflux up from the stomach or down from swallowing or even procedures such as intubation. When patients need surgery, they may go under general anesthesia and need to be intubated. During intubation, the anesthesiologist passes an endotrachial tube between the vocal cords to breathe for the patient. This procedure can cause the vocal cords to spasm simply by touching them, or the area around them. Here’s a training video for nurse anesthetists:
Patients who have been intubated while having laryngospasm would not know after they woke up, other than wondering about “the worst sore throat I have ever had.”
Treatment of Laryngospasm
There is no effective prescription medication for treatment of larynogspasm to relax the vocal cords. If GERD is a trigger, it must be treated. Individuals may experience multiple episodes of spasm at one time and it can be extremely frightening. Adjusting the positioning of the body may be a good way to help the larynx relax and speed recovery during an episode.
Techniques for Relief
- Sitting down and trying to relax the entire body
- Sitting and tilting head back in adult patients
The Best Treatment Is Prevention
In my opinion, laryngospasm is a “charley horse” of the vocal cords. Just as we can get spasms in any muscle, I feel some of us are predisposed to getting muscle spasms in our throat. Why certain muscles seem to have “hair-triggers” and are prone to spasming more than others is unknown, but in my experience they all have one thing in common: magnesium deficiency. About 80-85% of the US population is deficient in magnesium. Regular lab testing will often show it be normal, as only 1% is located in blood serum. The other 99% is in cells, and can only be measured through specialized white or red blood cell testing. The deficiency is at the cellular level, not at the blood serum level. Ask your doctor for a red blood cell magnesium test. Most labs perform this test. I include this test on all patient blood profiles.
While GERD or food/liquids touching the vocal cord area many be a trigger, in my opinion the underlying cause is almost always related to magnesium deficiency. Treating GERD can sometimes lead to more deficiencies in magnesium. Medication such as Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium, (commonly used for acid reflux) stop or reduce the production of stomach acid, but without the necessary stomach acid, magnesium is further depleted.
Magnesium also helps with the stimulation of GI muscles and can help to stimulate movement in the GI tract, often helping GERD as well.
The Best Supplement To Increase Your Magnesium Levels
By supplementing professional-grade chelated magnesium, it can eliminate the possibility of laryngospasm episodes. The dose and form of magnesium are very important. There are many magnesium products on the market choose from, and many are not well absorbed or cause GI side effects.
Diamond Nutritionals’ Chelated Magnesium provides three unique forms of highly-absorbed magnesium to ensure maximum absorption of this important macromineral. Most magnesium supplements use only a single-source of magnesium, which can easily overwhelm a single pathway of absorption, and limit uptake of healthy magnesium regimens. Diamond Nutritionals’ Chelated Magnesium takes advantage of three unique pathways of absorption by providing magnesium as 1.) di-magnesium malate, 2.) magnesium citrate, and 3.) magnesium glycinate for enhanced absorption and improved utilization. Some individuals, who take other forms of magnesium supplements, often experience GI side effects, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation or a combination of these symptoms. The forms of magnesium used in this product preserve GI comfort while maximizing absorption and restoring magnesium levels in the body.
So, for a number of very important reasons, I recommend Diamond Nutritionals’ Chelated Magnesium, two twice a day for adults. This dose is 470 mg. daily. My target range of supplemental magnesium for most adult patients is 400-600 mg. daily.
I also recommend taking a daily dose of Diamond Nutritionals’ Foundation Vitamin Formula for general health, and as a way to keep yourself from becoming vitamin or mineral deficient. Foundation Vitamin Formula contains the proper balance/ratios of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal function.
All Diamond Nutritionals products are professional-grade formulations, and are made in America from the purest ingredients.
And when you get rid of your laryngospasms, you’ll be happy and feel like celebrating!