Brief upper airway (laryngeal) dysfunction

Aust N Z J Med. 1990 Oct;20(5):663-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-5994.1990.tb00396.x.


We describe in six men, recurrent episodes recurring over months or years, of sudden, brief complete obstruction to respiration followed by dyspnoea with loud inspiratory stridor lasting two to five minutes. Attacks occurred during wakefulness and/or sleep. In one patient an episode was witnessed endoscopically: the initial obstruction was seen to be caused by complete laryngeal closure. The false vocal cords then opened, but the vocal cords remained adducted and caused inspiratory stridor. The similarity of the attacks described by the other patients suggests that they were all caused by laryngeal closure. Furthermore, they could simulate the episodes by voluntarily adducting their vocal cords. The symptoms were usually preceded by a sensation of throat irritation and in four cases symptoms of upper respiratory infection were present. Associated features present in some of the patients included post-nasal discharge, snoring, sleep apnoea and gastro-oesophageal reflux. None was hypocalcaemic. Although stimulation of laryngeal receptors is known to produce reflex laryngeal closure, cough is the usual response during wakefulness. Treatment aimed at reducing upper airway irritation and voluntary inhibition of coughing appeared successful in reducing the incidence and severity of the episodes. Recognition of the condition is important as it may be confused with other causes of acute dyspnoea and it appears to respond to specific management.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology
  • Airway Obstruction / physiopathology*
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Laryngismus / complications
  • Laryngismus / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology
  • Vital Capacity