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Has any experienced..... Laryngospasm when swimming

I have been swimming since last August and have taken in my fair share of water when swimming, as I am sure many others have.  However last week for the first time I thought that I had inhaled some water as I had a choking fit and seriously thought this was it.  I couldn't get my breath and had to be slapped on the back and then given the bear hug.  I eventually got my breathing under control but it was pretty scary.  This week I was back swimming, and I was all the more cautious not to get any water in my mouth.  I wear a nose clip when swimming and I could feel a tiny bit of water seeping up my nose.  This didnt bother me until it touched the back of my throat and my wind pipe felt as though it had closed again and the feeling of suffercastion came on again.  Luckily the episode didn't last as long as last week and I managed to calm myself and my breathing came under control.

I have looked on the web to see what is happening as I can't be doing with this every week, as its very frightening and draining, both mentally and physically.  From what I can find it sounds like laryngospasm, where the larynse goes into spasm and closes up and it can last for up to 60 seconds. 

I am just wondering if anyone else has experience this whilst swimming and how they control it.  I am booked into a few open water triathlons this year and am really worried if I get a spasam whist in open water. 


  • Which type of breathing are you doing, trickle (slowly), or explosive (waiting until last second), this can make a difference, try and work out why the water is getting into your mouth, and eliminate that as much as your can. If it does happen again and you find your throat feels like it has shut, try and tilt your head back and stick your tongue out. Hope this helps
  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Hi Ross

    I tend to breathe out slow, and at first I thought it was because I had expelled all the air from my lungs so try to save a bit now. As I swim with a nose clip, the water usually gets me from any choppy waves  in the pool if it is busy, and if I judge it wrong.

    I will try tilting head back and tongue out if it happens again. Thursday night is swim night, so see how I get on tonight. Admittedly I am a little anxious. 

    Thanks for the advice.


  • risris Posts: 1,002

    it sounds pretty rubbish! i wonder how much of it is tension / nerves and will ease out after a few swims where the water doesn't get to the back of the throat, and the reaction of the larynx is less extreme.

    as you said yourself, the second time was much less extreme and you were able to bring it back under control. keep an awareness of how it is behaving and with any luck it will slowly improve. sadly, getting the odd bit of water in your mush tends to be a regular occurrence for most swimmers, from pool or open water choppyness. 

    hope it improves!

  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Thanks Ris.  I think you are right about being anxious and make me swim more tense.  I survived Thursday and have been again today and have been okay.  Fingers crossed it won't happen again.

  • Hi Lisa, I also suffer from this condition and it has happened to me at least twice while pool swimming (thankfully nothing yet in open water, which might have something to do with the air and water temp). I know how frightening it is, not to mention embarrassing, when I had lifeguards around me and nearly got the pool emptied of other swimmers. Firstly this is a condition whereby the body gets mixed signals and can close the valves around the windpipe and lungs  giving you the impression that you are unable to breath and your gasping for air. I recently listened to an interesting radio chat show about other people who were experiencing this (I doubt many of them were actually triathletes and had to contend with this in water). What I did take away as advice was that there is always the risk that this could happen particularly when you run the risk of taking in water but if you are able to control the tension and nerves when an incident happens, try to remain calm and try to take slow deep breaths through your nose and out of your mouth, the horrible sensation will pass, although it does feel like a lifetime.  As for OW, I would suggest the usual safety practice, get on your back (use your wetsuit to float) raise and arm and you should get one of the marshals to assist you with their boat. Finally what I have found is that after a number of close calls when I have taken on water and feel as if I was about to choke, a few quick deep breaths up your nose and try to relax has worked for me, Whatever happens the episode will pass and you should be back to normal, I am now getting more and more confident as my ability to control it means fewer and fewer incidents. Dont let it put you off this great sport. 

    Good luck and race well.


  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Thanks for the advice Michael.  I think you are right about the pool swim and the temperature and the often strong smell of chlorine.  The last few weeks I have been fine thankfully.  I have slowed things down a bit (not that I was fast to start with), but I am taking more breaks and trying to relax more and it seems to be working.  Even the regular lifeguard is looking more relaxed when I am in the pool. .

    Our open water sessions will probably start again come April, and if I tell myself it is mind over matter then I am sure I will be okay.

    Thanks again.


  • i was swimming this evening in an indoor public pool. this was the first time i had ever experienced this: i was sharing the lane and i swallowed some water from the wake of the woman swimming in my lane in the opposite direction. i started to cough heavily. it felt like i had just choked on some water. i was part way into the deep end so i grabbed the lane rope and pulled myself to the shallower ground where i could stand. i was still coughing and then start gasping for air. i am trying to inhale through my mouth but no air is coming in, or i am unable to inhale. i had never experienced this so i start to panic. i can't breathe. so i start shouting for help and some people swim over to me. a woman is at my back telling me to calm down and inhale through my nose. immediately i can breathe. it was very scary and embarrassing. now i realize there's no reason to be embarrassed. and i'm sort of glad this happened because i hopefully learned how to deal with it if it happens again. 

  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Hi Ben

    Yes this is very scary and it happened to me twice in the indoor pool and once in open water.  As I was about 300m away from the open water 'spotters' at the time, I knew that I needed to get this under control whilst signalling for assistance, so straight on my back (wet suit buoyancy proved its worth), calmly as I could waved my hand in the air and told myself to calm and relax and within seconds I managed to get a little air in, and relaxed some more until my breathing steadied and I felt in control of the situation.  By this time the support boat had reached me and luckily I was able to tell them all was fine. 

    I am still a little anxious should this ever happen again, but I know just to tell myself to relax, let my muscles relax and be calm.

    Hope this was just a one off for you and that you don't have to go through it again.  I know what you mean about feeling embarrassed, but at least you are okay.

    Safe swimming


  • Hi Lisa,

    It was interesting to read your response to Ben and his recent choking situation, having discussed this with you previously, I am glad that you were able to resolve the problem you had in OW, That must of been scary, It sounds like you dealt with it really well and grabbed the bull by the horns, Well Done. I haven't had an episode since we last started this thread and I have often thought about how I would handle it in OW, I hope that your experience has allowed you to control it more and get over the fear even though it is scary during an episode, you clearly know what to do now.  Looking forward to the end of the winter and back to full training for a great 2016 and lots of races, (with breathing)




  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Hi Michael

    I hope I don't have to experience it again, but one thing I must say is that my wet suit gives me a lot of confidence now.  On the day in question it was a warm summers day and I had contemplated doing the open water swim without it.  I am so glad that I decided to wear it as the bouyancy helped massively and I hadnt realised up until that point how bouyant you are with the wet suit when you need it.  My advise to anyone new or unsure in open water is to wear their wet suit at all times. 

    Glad you haven't had any further episodes.

    Happy and safe swimming to you


  • Hi Lisa,

    Glad to hear you have total faith in your wetsuit, I couldn't be without mine now, it just makes OW so enjoyable.  Feel terrible about the young lad who lost his life earlier this season while in an Olympic race, I think that was down to misfortune and getting into difficulty that he was unable to recover from, certainly makes you think. Lets hope we don't experience anything while racing, have you any races planned?


  • Lisa GLisa G Posts: 29

    Got a few local running events booked and also going to my first half distance tri a crack with the Outlaw Half at Holkham.  Its a big step up, but hey why not.  Am also doing the half distances at Long Course Weekend but at least that is spread over three days.

    Its going to be a busy year, but looking forward to it.

  • Hi Lisa 

    that sounds like a great plan. Good to mix it up. I also did my first half at Stafford IM this year followed by the Rubicon in Yorkshire (flat and fast). Signed up for the Deva in Chester and Vitruvian for next year so another full year. 

    if your in need of a half training plan I can always send on my old one if it will help. 

    [email protected] 

    enjoy the year ahead 



  • I used my nose

    no monitors got into the water to help me, but in a lapse of calm I tried to suck in air through my nose instead of my mouth and the breath came.

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