Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Laryngospasm: What causes it?

What causes laryngospasm?

Updated: 12-16-2011

Answer

Laryngospasm (luh-RING-go-spaz-um) is a brief spasm of the vocal cords that temporarily makes it difficult to speak or breathe. Often the cause can't be determined. But laryngospasm can be associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Laryngospasm due to GERD occurs when stomach juices are pushed up your throat and make contact with your vocal cords, causing them to spasm.

The symptoms of laryngospasm are often confused with those of asthma — a lung condition that can make breathing difficult.

Laryngospasm happens suddenly and causes great difficulty breathing through the upper airways in your voice box (larynx). Laryngospasm also makes it difficult to speak. Though laryngospasm can be frightening, your vocal cords eventually relax without causing serious problems.

There's no effective medication to relax the vocal cords more quickly. However, sitting down and trying to relax your whole body during an episode may speed recovery.

If GERD is the cause of laryngospasm, treatment of GERD may reduce the number and severity of episodes.