One type of reactive airway obstruction is paroxysmal laryngospasm, which is a rare laryngeal disease in adults. In this condition, the throat is completely closed due to some form of hypersensitivity or a protective laryngeal reflex causing a transient, complete inability to breathe. Paroxysmal laryngospasm onset in patients is often characterized by a sudden and complete inability to breathe, along with voice loss or hoarseness and stridor. Paroxysmal laryngospasm usually lasts from several seconds to several minutes and may be accompanied by obvious causes such as upper respiratory tract infection, emotional agitation or tension, and/or severe coughing.
I shared something similar on Facebook and the fact that this had just happened to me when drinking lemon water and starting to talk too quickly after my last sip. I choked on the lemon water and my vocal cords went into a spasm. I could not breathe and I had a violent coughing fit. It was a terrifying experience! A few dabs of GABA powder inside my cheek helped relax my vocal cords – which are muscles – immediately. I could breathe right away.
I’ve been researching this condition for some time now because I figured out this same solution for a family member who has had this happen about 6 times in the last few years.
The response on Facebook was surprisingly high and I now wonder how common this condition is with those who experience low GABA physical-tension-type-anxiety and if oral GABA powder is a viable solution for more individuals.
The 2020 paper on paroxysmal laryngospasm
The above description comes from this 2020 paper – Paroxysmal Laryngospasm: A Rare Condition That Respiratory Physicians Must Distinguish from Other Diseases with a Chief Complaint of Dyspnea
Let’s review a few terms from the paper:
- According to Merriam-Webster, a paroxysm is a fit or attack.
- Laryngospasm “(luh-RING-go-spaz-um) is a transient and reversible spasm of the vocal cords that temporarily makes it difficult to speak or breathe”, according to Mayo Clinic
- Mayo Clinic describes dyspnea as follows: “Shortness of breath – known medically as dyspnea – is often described as an intense tightening in the chest, air hunger, difficulty breathing, breathlessness or a feeling of suffocation.”
- According to Medscape, stridor is “an abnormal high-pitched sound produced by turbulent airflow through a partially obstructed airway.”) It’s particularly distressing to hear.
So essentially the title of this paper could be translated to something like this: An attack of temporary spasms of the vocal cord that causes difficulty breathing (0ften with a distressing sound of suffocating). I would go as far to say: A terrifying attack ….
One of the objectives of the paper is to create more awareness on “how to identify and address paroxysmal laryngospasm from the perspective of respiratory physicians.” The authors share that otolaryngologists (head and neck surgeons) and anesthesiologists (it happens frequently when undergoing anesthesia) are experts in managing paroxysmal laryngospasm.
They also state it’s rare and generally happens when an individual has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and share how antireflux therapy i.e. PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) are frequently an effective treatment. My input on this: if it is caused by GERD, address why the GERD is happening and avoid PPIs if possible since they contribute to nutritional deficiencies and osteoporosis.
Hysterical stridor in adult females who are anxious and/or depressed
There is no mention of GABA or addressing spasms in the vocal cords and other muscles in this paper. However, the authors do discuss hysterical stridor as being different from paroxysmal laryngospasm, stating “it has a strong demographic pattern of occurring in young adult females, lasting for minutes to hours, frequently requiring sedation or anxiolytics for treatment, and persisting for years.”
They also share this about hysterical stridor:
Psychological assessment usually reveals multiple sources of life stress, compulsive personality traits, depression, anxiety, maladjustment, or a history of psychosomatic comorbidity. Other psychotherapy interventions, such as antianxiety therapy, depression therapy, sedation therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral therapy, are usually effective.
(note: I’m not thrilled by the term hysterical stridor. The diagnosis of hysteria goes back to the 1880s.)
I’m proposing oral GABA powder be researched as another viable option to address the low GABA anxiety symptoms, the hysterical stridor and the paroxysmal laryngospasm.
Is paroxysmal laryngospasm/hysterical stridor really that rare?
I do wonder if these conditions are really that rare. When I shared my experience on Facebook I had a reasonably big response from people saying it’s happened to them a few times, with some saying it has been happening all their lives. Here are a few of the many examples:
- Anita shared this: “I have experienced laryngospasm. The experience is a spasmodic tightening of the airway triggered by ‘swallowing wrong’ for me. I have never experienced laryngospasm aside from that. I do have low GABA symptoms of physical tension and have had intrusive thoughts in the past, stress eating, but have never used ‘wine to relax’ as I am a ‘teetotaler.’ The episodes I’ve experienced have always resolved on their own within a minute or so. Scary feeling – that is for sure! I plan to keep GABA powder on hand now just in case of a future episode.”
- Megan shared this: “I have Laryngospasm. I have total throat closure. It feels like forever but I suppose it’s up to 50 seconds. I’ve had it since I was a child and my mum has it too. Food is probably my main trigger, crumbly or syrup type things, a bad cold or even just swallowing wrong. I had a look at the list and I have quite a lot of the low GABA symptoms. I have generalized anxiety, feeling worried/fearful, panic attacks (but they are under control with Zoloft), tense stiff muscles, feeling stressed and burnt out, intrusive and unwanted thoughts and acrophobia.”
One woman felt she had experienced paroxysmal laryngospasm and she had been told it was a panic attack. A few people mentioned a similar condition called vocal cord disorder (often exercised- induced). Many said they had received no diagnosis or help from their doctor.
Interestingly, there are not many papers on “paroxysmal laryngospasm” or “hysterical stridor” so the research and presumably awareness too, seems to be lacking.
Why did I consider GABA for paroxysmal laryngospasm?
You may wonder why I considered GABA when this happened to me. I’ve personally used GABA with success over the years for spasms in my back muscles, rectal muscle spasms/proctalgia fugax, and vagus nerve and coughing/throat spasm episodes. With the additional knowledge I’ve now gained I suspect the latter was a form of laryngospasm.
I’ve also shared how GABA helps ease globus pharyngeus (a lump-in-the-throat sensation that is associated with anxiety and something I experienced in my late 30s).
I’m prone to low GABA physical-tension-type anxiety and have always done really well with oral sublingual GABA.
And of course, when you look at the low GABA symptoms all this makes perfect sense. GABA helps with muscle spasms and provides pain relief when muscles are tight. The vocal cords are muscles and the larynx itself contains many muscles.
In case you’re new to GABA, it is a calming amino acid, used as a supplement, to ease low GABA levels. With low GABA you’ll experience physical-tension and stiff-and-tense-muscles type of anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. You may feel the need to self-medicate to calm down, often with alcohol but sometimes with carbs and sugary foods.
What GABA did I use and how did I use it?
I dumped some GABA powder on the palm of my hand (with the help of a family member who rushed to my aid). I wet my finger with saliva, dabbed it in the GABA powder and rubbed it on the inside of my cheek. I did this a few times.
I don’t know exactly how much I used in total but estimate it to be around 200 mg GABA. I stopped rubbing it on the inside of my cheek as soon as I felt the muscles relaxing and I was able to breathe easily again. It felt like forever but it probably only lasted 30-60 seconds. I’d assume a more intense paroxysmal laryngospasm may require more GABA.
It was really encouraging how quickly GABA relaxed the muscles and stopped the laryngospasm. It’s also taken away the fear about it happening again.
Resources if you are new to using GABA as a supplement
If you are new to using the the amino acid GABA as a supplement, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low GABA and other low neurotransmitter symptoms)
If you suspect low levels of GABA or low serotonin and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids on your own so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the GABA products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
If you don’t feel comfortable reading my book, doing the low GABA symptoms questionnaire and doing trials of GABA on your own, you can get guidance from me in the GABA Quickstart Program.
If you are a practitioner, join us in The Balancing Neurotransmitters: the Fundamentals program. It’s an opportunity to interact with me and other practitioners who are also using the amino acids.
Have you experienced paroxysmal laryngospasm? And do you have the low GABA physical-tension-type-anxiety symptoms? What else is a trigger for you?
If you’ve already been using GABA with success, have you noticed a reduction in the paroxysmal laryngospasm episodes?
Have you ever used GABA in the way I did to stop an episode quickly?
Have you received a diagnosis and if yes, what diagnosis?
If you’re a practitioner please share what you have seen?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.