I don't know if this is something to really worry about, but it never used to happen up to a few years before. I am now 60. Maybe once in a month or so, I'll swallow something the wrong way. In the past, I would just cough and sputter like most people, wait a few minutes until I could talk again without having to cough, and it was over. That's still usually the case. But sometimes, these days, something I'm drinking, for example, will go "down the wrong pipe", and suddenly my throat really constricts. The windpipe gets so small, that I have real difficulty breathing. It feels as if I can't breath, and I have to wait for a few minutes and try to get by on small amounts of air entering until the windpipe slowly expands and I can take larger and larger breaths, and then, withing a few minutes, complete breaths. The feeling is quite scary. Any suggestions on what causes it? Is it common? Any cures or fixes? Thank you.
I can only try to imagine how “scary” this must be. The good side of this is the relative infrequency of this experience and the length of time over which it has occurred (“up to a few years before”). These characteristics suggest that the cause of your problem is, in all likelihood, functional rather than anatomical (for example, a tumor, benign or malignant). What you have experienced is not rare in the general population and even, not uncommon in the very elderly (age 60 does not place you in that group). While the great majority of causes involves the swallowing reflex, itself, there is one condition that is anatomical and that is what is called a diverticulum (out-pouching) of the esophagus. These structures can collect food or liquid and then release them, into your windpipe, without warning.
What you describe, in addition to being scary, is also dangerous, as these episodes may result in oxygen deprivation, of special concern with regards to very vital organs such as your heart and brain. For these reasons, you must now request consultation with a Gastroenterologist (GI specialist), to diagnose and treat the cause. Swallowing is a very complex physiologic maneuver that requires great coordination and involves nerves, muscles and reflexes. You should ask your primary care physician (PCP) to refer you to a GI specialist with a special interest in swallowing disorders. This type of specialist will arrange for you to have a radiologic swallowing study, physiologic testing of the ability of the esophagus to contract and carry food and liquid to your stomach and may require that he/she perform a direct examination of your esophagus and stomach (EGD).
The bottom line is that you, ideally with the assistance of your PCP, must take the initiative, to resolve this problem.
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