In Medicine, what is a Laryngospasm?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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In medicine, a laryngospasm is a sudden constriction of the vocal cords that impairs an individual’s ability to breathe or speak. Momentary in occurrence, this rare event often occurs in individuals who have been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Treatment for this often episodic condition is centered on prevention and generally involves the use of a medication to inhibit stomach acid production.

Often associated with GERD, a laryngospasm may also be idiopathic, meaning there is no obvious cause for its occurrence. Precipitated by the constriction of the adductor muscles, a laryngospasm occurs as a defense mechanism to shield the airways from a foreign substance, such as a drink of water going down the wrong way. In some cases, there may be nothing attempting to penetrate the airway, but a mild sensation may be misinterpreted, triggering the closure of the vocal cords.

Though laryngospasmodic episodes may be brief in duration, the intense feelings of constriction and anxiety may be enough to cause some individuals to lose consciousness. Common signs of an acute laryngospasm include audible respiration accentuated by an impaired ability to inhale. Individuals with GERD symptoms generally experience signs that include chest discomfort, coughing, and heartburn prior to a spasm of the vocal cords. Once the spasm subsides and the airways open, an individual may demonstrate a form of shrill audible respiration known as stridor.


It has been asserted that vocal cord spasms may also occur as post-operative complication. Irritation of the vocal cords, as induced by an inflammatory substance, may trigger a laryngospasm episode. The vocal cords of individuals with GERD are consistently exposed to stomach acid, which may cause chronic inflammation contributing to the development of more frequent spasms. The presence of respiratory infections may also contribute to the introduction of irritating substances into the larynx which may also trigger a spasming of the vocal cords.

Treatment for a vocal cord spasm usually involves the administration of medication to inhibit the production of stomach acid, which works to alleviate GERD symptoms and larynx spasms. There is no established medical treatment designed specifically to treat vocal cord spasms, therefore, in addition to the use of preventative medications individuals are encouraged to learn relaxation techniques to help alleviate larynx constriction. When preventive measures offer no relief, surgery may be utilized to reduce the frequency of laryngospasm episodes. The surgical repositioning of the upper portion of the stomach in relation to the esophagus, a common procedure known as fundoplication, may be performed to alleviate GERD symptoms and reduce one’s risk for recurrent laryngospasm episodes.

In severe cases, the placement of a tracheostomy button may be utilized specifically for the easing of laryngospasm-induced symptoms as they occur. The artificial opening and plastic tube require conscientious maintenance to ensure both remain operational and clean, meaning both are free of obstructing mucus and phlegm. A tracheostomy button placement may also involve significant activity and lifestyle restrictions.

Above all, education is key to the proper management of episodic vocal cord spasms. Individuals are often encouraged to educate themselves about episode warning signs and available treatment options. Appropriate medical care for existing, contributory conditions is also beneficial in reducing episode occurrence and symptom severity.


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Post 1

It is very sad that research has not progressed on this avenue.

Some direct the history of acidification of food, while others are currently investigating chromosomal damage and or genetics.

Is it the initial rearing of variance of ALS, laryngeal cancer or what?

Let's get the heavy boot of government off our researchers.

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