Choking while Sleeping Why?

Has anyone else experienced waking up with a blocked airway?

A little history: I had a 6 month span in 2001 when I had trouble breathing . Was diagnosed with allergy induced asthma but never had trouble until the first scary episode in 2015. My inhaler would expire in my purse with no use. I check my peak flow before bed every night but it doesn’t correlate with when I have a bad night.

This has happened to me about five times in the last few years. More lately I think from allergies. I go to sleep with no problems and around 4 or 5am, I wake up and sit up in a panic unable to breathe! I can’t breathe in. I can’t breath out. My airway is totally blocked! Luckily within 30 long seconds to 1 minute, I guess from my adrenaline kicking in, I can get little shallow breaths. Within the next few minutes my lung volume slowly increases and I’m shaky but ok. I then use the albuterol inhaler and try to go back to sleep.

Looking back at my other episodes, it occurs during the early spring or once in the winter when I had a mild cold with slight nasal drip.

I am on claritin and just started singulair. I am scared to go outside with tree pollen in the high to extremely high range for the past 10 days. I am scared to fall asleep when I do have to go out but have only had one episode this last week.

I recently saw a pulmonology PA and she wants to do a sleep monitor test to check for sleep apnea. I snore slightly but I don’t think that’s it since with sleep apnea you eventually gasp and take a breath. I don’t. 

Would appreciate your comments and advice



Comments 13

  • kira

    That sounds super stressful and scary!

    I can understand why a healthcare provider would want to do a sleep study. A sleep study would at least rule out sleep apnea and possibly show a repeat of the actual problem.

    It’s good that you’ve tracked possible conditions — mild cold with a post nasal drip — how much of a post nasal drip? Was the post nasal drip particularly thick? How often does this happen currently? Twice a month or more?

    If you wake up at night with asthma more than twice a month, it’s good to have a conversation with your doc about how controlled your asthma actually is.

    When you can figure out the triggers, it may be that you can have a plan in place … for instance, it could be that your doc will give you a “sick plan” when you have a cold. I know that when I have a cold, my sick plan calls for me using my inhaler on a schedule. It helps open up my lungs and prevent a more severe asthma attack.

    A great resource that helped me learn more about managing my asthma was AAFA’s ASTHMA Care course, a self-paced online course for people with asthma. It’s free and very instructive!

  • miri

    Thanks for the information. I am new to asthma since everything resolved back in 2001 and breathing was never an issue for me–so I thought. I’ll definitely take a look at the asthma course.

    You asked how often. Only 5 times. The first in May 2015, another in 2016 (forget exactly when) and then the last 3 this year, January, March and April. Not that many but I want to figure out why. It’s been about 10 days since the last one which is great. Either the meds (claritin, singulair, and flonase-which I forgot to mention above), the lack of going out, or both have helped.

    I’ll also look into a sick plan. I do not already have one.

    I’m looking to see which tree pollen gives me trouble. I’ve seen the list of trees that produce the most allergens but I’m unable to find a source that lists them in order of when they are most predominant. I know it varies from year to year but they must have some seasonal pattern. I got tested (blood work) for allergies last week but the only trees on the panel (besides pet, dust, grass, weed and mold) were elm and oak. I was negative to all. I would like to be able to enjoy the outdoors when the “bad” tree(s) aren’t spewing their pollen!

    Thanks again for your comments, very helpful for a novice like me.

  • kira

    So glad I could be of help! One site that may help you figure out what’s blooming is “pollen-com”. You can search by zip code, and it will show you what top pollens are blooming.

  • Matthew

    I would also double check for sleep apena . I have Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia as well as allergic asthma sometimes when I wake up in morning I can’t breath and have to throw up mucus . My body can’t properly get rid of it mucus so it clogs .

  • kira

    Very good point about the mucus, Matthew! What do you do to assist your lungs in getting rid of mucus?

  • Matthew

    Well a lot of mucus also comes from the sinus as well . My doctors require me to do sinus wash each day . I have to do nebulizer with sodium chloride , albuterol every day . I take regular musinex every day . Symbicort , Spiriva, dymista every day . Singular at night . Also my doctor has me practice breathing and coughing techniques to get mucus up. Also increase physical activity that gets lungs moving as well like hiking . But I always have my rescue inhaler on hand . Sometimes it’s not my lungs that give me the problem when I have asthma it’s that my throat spasms of that makes sense . So my doctor has me keep dissolving allergy pills on hand .

  • Aaliyah

    Matthew, have you talked with your dr about taking a decongestant, like Mucinex D to help with the mucus? There are many ways to treat allergies, and a decongestant is one of them.

  • Matthew

    My Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia causes the cilia in my body not to work properly. Meaning the mucus is not easily removed from the body . So that’s why I’m on a lot of the meds that I am . Which also included allergy pills and other pills that have decongestant already. So there is no need to add dm to the musinex. The regular musinex is there to thin things out even more .

  • miri

    My sleep study is scheduled for May 9th. Matthew, looks like you at least have a plan to deal with all you issues. Not sure if my problem is with mucus. When I wake up choking it seems like my airway is just swollen shut. As I slowly am able to take a breath, I don’t have the need to cough up anything. We’ll see what the sleep study shows.Thanks for your comments. It’s nice to have your support.

  • kira

    Good luck, Miri, with the sleep study! I hope it gives you plenty of good info! Matthew, do you use percussive therapy to help loosen the mucus? I know that some folks with cystic fibrosis use that, and at least one member here has used it.

  • Matthew

    I haven’t had to use that as of yet . My sinuses are worse then my lungs . But my doctor wants to keep it that way. The nebulizer helps me along with Aerobika. Also physical activity.

  • kira

    Matthew, it sounds like you are working really closely with your doc! That’s great! I hope things continue to improve.

  • Matthew

    Thank you. I have to before this I was sick all the time one year I was on antibiotics 40 times.