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Asthma

Reasons for A Temporarily Plugged Ariway

11/27/2007

Question:

I`ve had a sinus cold for a week or so. A few nights ago I woke up after coughing and could not breath. Finally, with a deep wheezing sound the airway started opening and I calmed down. Happened again last night, except worse. Finally, went to hospital where they took a lung X-Ray, a lung Cat scan, and gave me a breathing treatment which I believe helped. They also gave me a steroid to reduce inflamation and a shot of Benadryll. The doctors also wrote me a prescription for Benzonatate 100mg, Albuterol INH 90MCG AER, Azithromyci 250MGPAKTAB. The doctor told me my lungs were clear and my oxygen level was 98. My throat gets real dry and itchy to the point I have to cough, once I cough it`s like my throat seals up or gets plugged up around my Adam`s apple or below. The doctor said it did not look like I had a throat infection. I did have one before this started. The sypmtoms were yellowish muscus coming out of my nose and a little from coughing. The doctor basically said he did not know what was wrong but did the lung test to make sure it wasn`t a clot or something. I quit smoking after 10 years 5 months ago and I`m 45 years old. Smoked Menthol about a pack a day. Would like to know if anyone has had this problem because it worries me. I`m sure it has something to due with this cold but in all my years never had it make it where I could not get a breath. I feel it`s mucus stopping up my throat or something. Would moist air help? Any help or ideas are greatly appreciated. Thanks

Answer:

There are several things that can cause the symptoms you describe.  The most common causes are described below.  It is important to talk to your doctor about each one because the treatment is different.

1.  Bronchospasm - is a sudden closure of the air tubes caused by irritation.  This is known as an asthma attack in someone with asthma.  If the attack is mild the use of albuterol (or other beta agonist) will ease the spasm.  If the attack is severe emergency treatment (911) is needed.  Severe attacks can lead to death.  If you have asthma it is important to have albuterol available to you at all times and an asthma action plan to follow if you are having breathing problems.  Even people with "intermittent or mild" asthma can have severe life threatening attacks.

2.  Vocal Cord Spasm - is the closure of the vocal cords during breathing.  Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) can be caused by irritation such as post nasal drip, acid reflux, coughing, upper respiratory infections, anxiety, etc.  When the vocal cords become irritated they close when they are supposed to be open, making breathing difficult.  A vocal cord spasm can look and feel just like an asthma attack but is treated with relaxation and special breathing techniques rather than medication.   VCD is diagnosed by an Ear Nose and Throat specialist who has additional training in testing the vocal cords.

3.  Mucous plug - a large amount of mucous can temporarily block the breathing tube making breathing difficult until it can be coughed out.  Certain infections and lung diseases can make mucous plugging more common. 

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Response by:

Cathy   Benninger, RN, MS, APRN, C-AE Cathy Benninger, RN, MS, APRN, C-AE
Clinical Assistant Professor
Director, OSU Asthma Center Educational Program
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University