Avatar universal

Breathing Spasms If I Cry

I have read several posts on this site written by mothers who were scared by their baby having involuntary breathing spasms after crying. I just wanted to let them know that I was one of those babies. I am now 19 years old, and continuing to live with these spasms, which, though frustrating and sometimes frightening, have never felt life threatening to me.
When I was 4 months old, my parents heard my crying one day suddenly stop mid-sob. They looked down and I appeared to be choking, unable to inhale. They rushed me to the hospital, where I spent 3 days in intensive testing. Blood work, x-rays, scans, the works. Nothing was found, and the was no diagnosis. My parents took me home with the directions, "Try not to let her cry," a nearly impossible task with an infant.
As I grew older, I learned to control my crying, never letting myself reach the point of sobbing. Perhaps once a year, or less, I'll lose control and begin to spasm.
This is what it feels like: I feel capable of breathing out to sob, but incapable of inhaling. It feels as though I'm inhaling through a cocktail straw. I'm able to gasp in irregular rhythms, so that even when I'm done crying, I still sound as though I'm sobbing because of how hard I work to breathe. Later, after finally calming the initial tightness, I will have intermittent spasms that feel as though my esophagus is clenching and unclenching, causing me to gasp. At its worst, these spells make me feel dizzy and a little faint, or as though my hands are asleep from lack of blood. (I have low blood pressure.) I am a good runner and rarely winded, and have never been diagnosed with asthma.
For mothers or fathers with a child who has the symptoms of gasping and choking when crying, this might be an insight into what they are feeling.   If anyone has heard of a diagnosis for these spasms, I would love to hear them.
Thank you,

This discussion is related to Involuntary Breathing Spasms - Child.
5 Responses
Avatar universal
I think my child has this. This same description started when she was 2 mos old. Only if she will cry hard and for a long time. It has occur less as she is now 3. But if she gets mad an cries for long she will get it but not as scary as before. She will just froze and her arms up like she can not get the air in or out ( 5 seconds or so) and then her arms will go down and she will breath normal. The neurologist did the EGG not during episode and it was normal. He diagnosed her with breath holding spell. But I never think is that. Is there a cure or medicine for this? I think is scary. I have asked so many doctors and no one has heard about this, even a nurse and an emergency doctor witness the episodes and said it was sobbing.

Thank you for your storie and take care.

555858 tn?1331988381
You might have read my post where I described this happening to my son, who is only 5 months old now. He has been seen by our family pediatrican and also by an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. Both of them feel he has reflux and that reflux is causing irritation of his throat and/or vocal chords and this in turn is leading to the spasms.

The problem with this diagnosis is that I keep reading posts like yours about children AND adults who are continuing to have the spasms so clearly this is not caused by typical infant reflux which they outgrow.

Every episode our baby has had has been preceeded by intense CRYING so that must be directly related to the spams.

A lady read my post and contacted me about this possibly being VCD or Vocal Chord Dysfunction. Here is her website: http://cantbreathesuspectvcd.com/

Besides VCD, you might also look into something called Laryngospasm.

I took my son to the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic on a "normal" day and they did a Laryngoscopy and vocal chord function and structures looked normal. Thus the diagnosis that it was probably just reflux aggravating his throat. The ENT did admit he had never heard of the gasping/sobbing spams lasting so long (my son's attacks will last all day or into the night).

SO...........I will take him back to the clinic next time he has an attack so they can what's going on while it is happening. If anyone has not tried this, I would strongly suggest it. You would want to see an experienced Speech Path or ENT doctor.

Will say a prayer for you all.....say one for us, please!
Avatar universal
Hi.  My 3 1/2 month old daughter has had this happen about 3 times since she's been born, tonight being the most recent and worst episode yet.  Each time thus happens she has just had a hard cry.  She tenses up her face and stops breathing for a second or two and that makes her scared, mad, and uncomfortable (I'm sure), so she just screams harder an harder, making the "spasms" that much worse.  It took over an hour to calm her tonight, and even after she calmed down she was still having these spasms for another 20 minutes or so.  It's very scary and is strting to make we wonder if there is something serious to be worried about.  My husband said we would probably take her to the doctor tomorrow, but I wanted to see if anyone else had any information on this.  Thank you, Sarah  

Praying for everyone dealing with this scary condition!  God bless!  :)
Avatar universal
Hi, My niece has the same episodes everyone describes. I was searching the web to see if there was treatment here in the United States but as I read everyones postings i realized that there isn't one here. In Mexico they are called "ESPASMOS DEL SOLLOZO" (SOBBING SPASM) and they do have a treatment. I'm going to take my niece in a few days instead to Mexico to get treated. she started since she was two months old and now she is 10 months and for her it happends when she is going to cry or when she is surprised. If you want a treatment  since I know is scary go to mexico to a pediatrician.

I hope this helps everyone.
555858 tn?1331988381
I just wanted to weigh in on this subject since it has happened to two of our young children. Our son, who is 3 1/2 now, experienced his first "apnea of crying" or "sobbing spasm" when he was about 8 weeks old. He was sleeping in his swing and I noticed a definite pattern of (1) a sharp and sudden intake of breath (2) holding the breath for anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds (3) release or deflating of breath. All of this was involuntary, and happening beyond his control. This was definitely not a case of a child getting upset or crying and deliberately holding his breath. The best way I could describe them was "breathing spasms" or "involuntary gasping."

We rushed him to our pediatrician that night and the doctor said it looked like a hiccup, but was definitely something different. Oxygen levels were fine. The doctor had no answer so we just went home. The spasms continued throughout that night, even as my infant son slept. In the morning, they were gone completely.

This same scenario repeated itself throughout his infancy - nine out of ten of the episodes being triggered by sobbing or intense crying. As time passed, they began to shorten in duration and severity. By the time he was 2, they were gone for good and we've seen no repeats (again, he is now over 3 years old).

The best answer I ever got from a medical professional was from my friend, a speech pathologist. She said his throat structures were all normal, but that what was happening during an attack was something like a "Laryngospasm" where the throat/windpipe briefly and involuntarily closes up. The triggers for such spasms are varied, just as people experience headaches for a variety of reasons. Our job was to find the trigger.

Then the plot thickened. We had another baby last year and he ALSO has experienced these same spasms, however they were much milder and went away by the time he was 12 months old.

My personal theory about these sobbing spasms (esp. in infants and children) is that in an otherwise "healthy" child they are most likely triggered by:

1. Allergies (i.e. a very common allergic symptom is to have the throat swell, close up or spasm)
2. Exertion (i.e. similar to asthma but not actually a diagnosed condition - this would be classified as Intermittent Asthma, which is usually outgrown)
3. Intense Crying (this is a known phenomenon and happens to many of us - we get hiccups or spasms of the diaphragm after sobbing. In some people, perhaps this reflex is highly sensitive or exaggerated)

And there might be a combination of the above triggers.

And in almost every case....it's not life threatening. I think a parent would need to be very concerned only if an underlying condition was diagnosed such as chronic asthma or other respiratory disorders, structural abnormalities in the throat or lungs, or a severe allergy.

In our children's case I noticed something VERY interesting in hindsight. Both of our little boys had a serious milk protein allergy from birth (this is different from lactose intolerance). They were so sensitive that if I ate a little dairy and then breastfed them, they would have a reaction (usually extreme fussiness, gas and vomiting). Fortunately, both of my sons outgrew this allergy. AND around the same time they outgrew the milk allergy....the spasms stopped! This to me is no coincidence, esp. as I've seen it happen twice now.

In summary, in the case of my two youngest (I actually have 4 children but the first two never experienced this or the allergies), I feel that both were suffering from a moderate food allergy which put them at risk for these throat spasms. In other words, they did not have episodes of spasms every time some dairy got in their system. Instead, it was bouts of crying that triggered the episodes. But I'm pretty sure it was the pre-existing allergy which made them susceptible.

My theory bears itself out in what I've continued to observe. My two little boys may cry and sob and get very upset, but it no longer triggers the throat spasms, just the normal little "hiccups" we all get for a little while after.

Finally.....there is an article on the web called "The sobbing spasm or the apnea of crying: a review and a proposal for care" but I can't access it because it's in Spanish! If someone can get a hold of the English text, please let me know. It would be helpful to all of us who are concerned about this issue!

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