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Cough and airways close

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Hi all, I'm hoping to get some further advice as I'm quite frustrated and a bit worried.

Here's the background:


- I am male, 30 years old...generally fairly fit & healthy.
- I have had Asthma since I was 5 years old, but have had no serious attacks these last 15 years.
- I used to be a smoker (13 years in total...about 5-a-day) but have almost stopped completely these last 12 months (the odd couple in bars) and have not had a single tug in 4 weeks.
- Other than my Asthma reliever inhalor I take no regular or prescription medication.
- I generally get Hayfever every year...meaning lots of blowing-my-nose due to pollen allergy...but it's never serious, just annoying.
- Apart from the odd cold these last few years...I don't really get ill.
- Since March this year, I have worked nightshifts (14 x 8-hour shifts per month, with the rest of the time being free time).


- About 3 weeks ago I developed a cough out of nowhere. A chesty cough that sometimes (say 10% of the time) brought up phlegm. This phlegm has been clear, yellow or green and has been fluid or thick...might be dependent on what I've just eaten.

- After 2 weeks, the cough wasn't going away. No other symptons, just the cough. After some particular heavy fits I finally saw the Doc who reckoned Bronchitis and prescribed a 10-day antibiotic program and sick-leave.

- The coughs are irregular...I might sleep peacefully a whole night. During the day I probably have one bout every hour, of 4 - 8 coughs each.

The problem:

- These last few days the coughing fits have resulted in a quite scary complete tightening of my airways. I cannot move any breath in or out and have to violently burp to force them open again. It can be up to 30 seconds until I start breathing, and a couple of minutes until the breathing is normal.

- These last 24 hours I vomited twice during a cough fit, shortly after eating. Small amounts of undigested food came out.

Note: I have had no Asthma-related wheezing issues during these weeks. Which in itself is very unusual in my experience.

The first time this happened I went to an all-night clinic. It was a saturday night and the place was busy with disrespectful drunks so all the staff were a bit rushed and stressed. The Doc there reckoned what I was experiencing is normal for chest infections and prescribed calm.

But still, I fear my cough because if I can't control a coughing fit then at the end of it I will not be able to breathe and will just have to sit still and burp until my airways open up again.

Can anyone else add or complement any information or experiences?

Many thanks in advance.
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First Helper User Profile Nobleone

replied March 24th, 2009
Re: cough and airways close
I have had the same thing happen and it is very scary. The only way I can start to breathe again is by repeated swallowing. I do not know the cause, but since swallowing helps in my case, I thought perhaps spasms in the throat cause the muscles to close up preventing the passage of air.
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replied September 29th, 2010
I have GERD and Asthma but Burping stops my Coughing Fits
I have been having coughing fits for more than 18 years and was diagnosed with A-typical asthma 14 years ago. I've tried everything to treat the asthma but the more I treated it the worse it got. I had expensive nose reconstructions to repair any defects and it didn't help. Then I got diagnosed with GERD. Nexium helped but I still had the coughing fits which were scary and often ended with me vomiting. I've stopped the Nexium and began using other methods to manage the reflux. It is much better now.

A few months ago I noticed something strange. When I'm having a coughing fit, if I burp the coughing will ease or stop completely. Since then I've experimented with this and it works. At first I needed other people to hit my back and burp me, but now I am able to burp myself and stop the coughing fit. I rarely use my inhaler now and when I start coughing I don't panic as much because I know that when I burp I'll be OK. I haven't vomited for several months and I'm feeling more more positive.

I know I still have GERD, but managing my diet and exercise and not eating late at night have helped tremendously. This burping thing has given me the power to manage my asthma symptoms and now I often go for several days without using the inhalers. I would love to know if other people have experienced anything similar. It seems really strange that something as simple as burping can bring so much relief.
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User Profile
replied September 17th, 2011
help, I could die!
I have bronchitis which is not supposed to cause throat spasms but sometimes when I cough a couple time by throat closes up and I make a terrible noise trying to force any air into my lungs. It's terrifying because there is no breathing happening and I fear turning blue, passing out and never waking up again. There is a lot of involuntary swallowing and air coming up from my stomach. So far each episode ends with air gradually getting back in and tears running down my face. Most episodes happen in the morning but not all. One episode was while I was at a health clinic and they still had no thearies on what they had witnessed. It sounds similar to what the original poster experiences. It's only been going on for about three weeks durini the course of this bronchitis and never before in my life. Sometimes I can feel it coming on and either hold my breath or breath through my nose to prevent it from happening. When it does happen it reduces me to a state of indescribable terror with no place to go because by the time I get to a medical establishment they say I'm fine because I'm obviously breathing okay by then. Does anyone have a name for this or something that has helped them as it sounds like what the original poster goes through.
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replied July 7th, 2013
Did u ever figure out how to treat this?
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replied November 12th, 2011
airway tightens up can't breathe for minutes
I have something similar every once in a while I inhale water in the shower or last night I ate a cheesy and something must've went into my airway and the airway closes down to a pinhole. It's a total panic situation.

I have to try and not cough or swallow or do anything to perpetuate the problem and then the airway eventually opens up. But for quite a while there's hardly any air getting through. Many years ago I had a bad bout of something like bronchitis and it started after that. It's been a couple years since I had it happen so I thought maybe the inflammation had subsided or something.

If you figure out what's wrong please let me know as it is terrifying.
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replied December 30th, 2012
Anybody on here get any answers or relief?? My mom has had the same problem this past October. It started with a bad bout of tracho bronchitis and then she started having episodes where after one cough her throat would close up. We went to emergency once and the ambulance picked her up twice. All three times they had no answers except that her chest xrays were clear and so was the cat scan. Her Ent saw some inflammation behind her vocal cord so put her on anti inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxers. The emergency had her admitted for a day because she pleaded to not go home. when she did they sent her home with a nebulizer but that made things much worse as did the mucinex. two months later her bronchitis is gone but the lump she feels in her throat is there and so are her breathing episodes. She can control them a little better (not talk loud or laugh or cough) she also was swallowing and burping through the episodes when she had them bad. Help any new info??
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replied March 6th, 2013
I'm having the same problem.

Started with a chest infection then turned into this weird gagging cough followed by choking if the cough was hard enough and there is mucus present in my lungs at the time.

The mornings are the ones to watch out for, if I have phlegm building up overnight and some of that gets brought up on the first cough of the day, that's when things get really bad for me.

Controlled burping after the cough helps if you can do it, since I learnt this technique I haven't had a really bad attack.

Guaifensin throughout the day also helps me, as does Zyzal to a certain degree. I'm sure this is related to LPR Reflux and allergies, so tired of it after 2 months...
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replied September 3rd, 2013
Coughing that leads to closing of airway
I have been having these same problems described above with the coughing that leads to closing of the airway. I have asthma and have dealt with that for many years but this something totally different. I have been referred to a GI doctor who performed an endoscopy that said my esophagus was narrowed a bit and stretched it with a ballon similar to angioplasty procedure used in heart procedure. I have not noticed any improvement since. I have also seen a pulmonologist who said that he believes it is a post nasal drip in my throat that is causing the cough and that the cough has irritated the vocal chords muscles causing spasms/coughing. He has taken me off some of the medicines I was on stating they may also be the culprit(lisinopril for blood pressure). It as many of you stated, a cough that leads to closing of the airway desperately gasping for air. My episodes occur any time of the day or night that I have to cough. I can awake from a dead sleep to coughing, choking, gagging, gasping. It is a terrifying feeling. I saw where one other person posted they are taking zyzal. I am also on zyzal and wondered if any others are using this too. If I get to the bottom of the issue or find a "cure" from one of these doctors I will post more later.
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replied February 2nd, 2016

According to Edward C. Rosenow III, M.D. with the Mayo clinic, Laryngospasm (luh-RING-go-spaz-um) is a brief spasm of the vocal cords that temporarily makes it difficult to speak or breathe. With words like brief and temporary if actually sounds quite innocuous. For those who experience it however it is nothing less than terrifying.

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night terrified. Your throat feels as though it is closing up and you are choking. Some people describe it as if you are drowning. Or perhaps you start to cough and instead of the coughing spell ending, all of a sudden your throat closes up and you feel as though you are gasping for air and breathing through the tiniest of tubes. That is what a laryngospasm feels like. I cannot imagine any greater fear than not being able to breathe. The larynx is the pathway to your lungs and is ever so important. It is not something you want to have spasm.

The larynx is the area in the neck that contains your vocal cords. It is approximately 2 inches long and is located below your pharynx and above your trachea. We use it to breathe, talk, and swallow. It is protected by the Adam’s apple. As you inhale, air goes into the nose and or mouth, then through the larynx, down to the trachea, and then into the lungs. The openings of the esophagus (food tube) and the larynx are in close proximity in the throat. When you swallow, the epiglottis closes off the larynx to keep food out of the windpipe and in your esophagus where it belongs. When everything works as it should it is a marvelous process. Air goes in from the atmosphere and into lungs and back out. You can speak through air passing through your vocal cords. However if you have a spasm in your larynx it can be terrifying. You cannot speak. You cannot swallow. You are unable to “catch your breath”.

Symptoms of Laryngospasm
The symptoms vary from person to person however most people describe it with any of the following descriptions:

Abrupt and swift onset. No warning.
Typically, it lasts less than 60 seconds, however it feels much, much longer when it occurs.
Occurs anytime (day or night) but is most noticeable when eating and something feels like it “went down the wrong way”. It causes a feeling of choking.
May occur in the middle of the night, causing you to be awakened unable to breathe.

There are many theories. Here are the more common causes:

GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
Even small amounts of exposure to gastric acid may cause significant laryngeal damage. It can result in hoarseness, increased coughing, increased throat clearing and laryngospasm. Individuals with Gastroesophageal reflux disease may benefit from adopting the following habits:

No eating within two - three hours of bedtime or lying down to rest.
Sleep on your left side may prevent food from pressing on the opening to your esophagus.
Lose weight if you are overweight.
Elevate the head of your bed using blocks of at least 6 inches.
Avoid overeating.
Reduce fatty, fried, spicy, or acidic foods.
Reduce caffeine, carbonated beverages and alcohol.
Stop smoking.

Nerve damage
Nerve injury can occur either from a surgical procedure such as removal of your thyroid or from complications with anesthesia or tracheal intubation. Being on a ventilator via an endo-tracheal tube in your throat for greater than 10 days increases your risk.

Because of the inflammation and swelling that is common during the flu laryngospasms can occur. In February 2005, Pope John Paul II was hospitalized after a bout with the flu with a larynospasm. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the decision to have the 84-year-old Pontiff admitted to hospital was "mainly precautionary". He added: "The flu condition that has afflicted the Holy Father for the past three days deteriorated with an acute laryngospasm.” So if the Pope can suffer from it because of having the flu, it is safe to say anyone can.

Other theories as to causes include exposure to cold, anxiety and panic attacks, allergies and others.

After evaluating subjectively what your symptoms are and what makes them worse a physical evaluation needs to be done. A through exam is necessary that includes a fiber-optic exam to view your larynx and vocal chords. Some doctors will request a pulmonary function test as well to evaluate your pulmonary status. A Sleep study to see how you breathe at night might be helpful. An endoscopic exam to evaluate your esophagus may sometimes be done as well. The treatment plan will depend upon the cause.

If you are diagnosed with having spasms at night a CPAP machine may be helpful by forcing air continually through your larynx into your lungs.

Laryngospasms worsens with strong attempts at inhaling. That is what you would instinctively want to do too. The faster the air flow moves through a narrowed area, the lower the pressure. This act of rapid breathing in effect, more easily makes the vocal cords become tighter. This makes matters worse!
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Users who thank Nobleone for this post: nerrad 

replied August 6th, 2016
Has anyone figured out the cause or how long this lasts??
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replied August 7th, 2016
Hi, see also my message to you, I'll re-post the update here for posterity Smile

I'm happy to report great improvements in my breathing from back then.

The condition seems to have been identified by the last comment in that thread: Laryngospasm. The poster called "nobleone" wrote a long detailed comment about it.

In my case I needed another couple of weeks to get the flu out my system, quit smoking permanently and attempted to manage my allergies better: keeping the home clean and wiping away dust with wet cloths so it doesn't fly up in the air.

Regarding Asthma, I finally found a medication which controls it with no bad side effects: Viani. I tried others which had different active ingredients and they caused more breathing problems than they solved, including sleep apnea.

The best way to handle such attacks is to stay calm, and practice burping/swallowing motions to relax the airways.
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