Muscular tension dysphonia, episodic laryngospasm, globus, and cough may be considered to be hyperfunctional laryngeal symptoms. Suggested etiological factors for these symptoms include gastroesophageal reflux, psychological problems, and/or dystonia. We propose a unifying hypothesis that involves neural plastic change to brainstem laryngeal control networks through which each of the above etiologies, plus central nervous system viral illness, can play a role. We suggest that controlling neurons are held in a "spasm-ready" state and that symptoms may be triggered by various stimuli. Inclusion criteria for the irritable larynx syndrome are episodic laryngospasm and/or dysphonia with or without globus or chronic cough; visible or palpable evidence of tension or tenderness in laryngeal muscles; and a definite symptom-triggering stimulus. thirty-nine patients with irritable larynx syndrome were studied. Gastroesophageal reflux was felt or proven to play a major role in a large number of the group (>90%), and about one third were deemed to have psychological causative factors. Viral illness seemed quite prevalent, with one third of patients able to relate the onset of symptoms to a viral illness that we feel might lead to central nervous system changes. Our proposed hypothesis includes a mechanism whereby acquired plastic change to central brainstem nuclei may lead to this form of hyperkinetic laryngeal dysfunction. It gives structure and reason to an array of therapy measures and suggests direction for basic research.