Why do I wake up choking?

September 14, 2009

in Sleep Apnea

It happens quite often. You’re sound asleep one moment, then suddenly you’re gasping for air. You’re eyes are wide open, you are trying to inhale or exhale, but your throat is clamped shut. While there are quite a few reasons this could be happening, the most commonly known ailment is Obstructive Sleep Apnea, also know as OSA.  This type of ailment is common to approximately 5 % of the world’s population.

OSA occurs when a person who is asleep stops breathing because their airway collapses. It does not stay collapsed but it does restrict airflow for a noticeable amount of time. Symptoms of OSA, Obstructive Sleep Apnea, include snoring and being excessively sleepy during the day. Although being overweight is a risk factor for this type of problem, thin people still get it. Allowing this problem to persist can result in heart disease, high blood pressure and even stroke.

There is treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The easiest type of treatment is positional. The belief is that sleeping on your back can be more harmful to this sort of condition. Try sleeping on your side. Some people have been known to put tennis balls inside a tube sock and pin it to their nightshirt to keep them from rolling onto their back while asleep. Another way to reduce episodes from OSA is to sleep on your back with your chest elevated on a wedge type rest. Make sure it’s not a pillow that forces your chin to your chest. Avoid alcohol and other central nervous system depressants as these tend to me OSA worse by relaxing the muscles to the airway which reduces the respiratory drive and increases the amount of episodes you might have. If weight is an issue, then the simple idea of weight loss will fix the problem. Medical intervention includes the use of a CPAP machine which is worn at night and acts in a splint like manner for the airway using air from the room. The last resort method is surgery to fix the problem. However, surgery is risky in that it could make the OSA better or it could make it worse.

Before jumping into something, consider other things that may cause you to have the feeling of choking in the middle of the night. The temporary conditions of heartburn, post nasal drip and vocal cord spasms can also cause you to feel as if you’re choking. Discuss your symptoms with a doctor in order to determine a correct diagnosis as well as a correct treatment option. Most doctors will recommend an overnight sleep study if they are unsure as to your exact condition.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred Mccrackin August 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I had a patient several years ago that had both legs amputated. One was amputated in the actual injury; the other was removed in surgery at the hospital. He said that it hurt. He knew that he was injured, but he said that he was able to tolerate the pain for quite a while. I think that he said that he lost consciousness after the beam was removed from his legs and he was being put on the helicopter. He ended up having to have a wound vac because the amputations were traumatic and therefore left open because there wasn’t enough skin immediately to cover the stumps. He said at that point he had phantom pain…….in other words…..his feet hurt.


Milton Janacek October 16, 2010 at 11:58 pm

When doctors treat patients for the condition, one of the first things they do is see if they are taking any of these aids and try to get them to cut back. Certain pills that treat anxiety and muscle relaxers are also known to enhance the condition. Don’t take yourself off any medications without talking it over with the physician who prescribed them.


Bob T August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

Sometimes I wake up choking as though my windpipe’s blocked by mucous, and I mean seriously BLOCKED. When this happens it can take MINUTES to clear, during which time I could very well black out and die. I have to fight the panic response to keep my heart rate down and use less oxygen so I’ll have a few more seconds to dislodge the blockage.

I’ve been to several doctors about this and they’re NOT INTERESTED in helping me. What can I do to get a Doctor to help me out?


Victoria June 14, 2014 at 6:51 am

I get the same thing. It recently started for me. I wake up suddenly choking gasping for air, can’t swallow like my throat is so dry. I swallow a few times enough to get saliva to wet my throat enough to at least ask my husband to get me something to drink. Even asking during this time is hard to do because airway or throat feels like not working. I have to admit I am overweight and for some reason for the past year weight has been gaining on me everyday. I was always able to maintain a certain weight with yoyo weight gain or loss of 10 lbs. Now my weight is uncontrollable and steadily increasing. Before all this that is happening to me For many years now I have noticed fatigue while driving around the hrs of 10am and 2 pm. I learned not to be on the road around those times. Later in time my sleep has been controllable. I tend to fall asleep in a desk chair, driving, kitchen table, at any given time my body sits to relax I would be out for bout a hr max. about 2 months ago my sleep has been 4 hrs max for the day and those 4 hrs was broken up sleep. Now that I started working again my sleep is alot. I sleep for 13 hrs and I am still tired when I go to work. Granted I only sleep when working. When not working I am back at very little sleep. Anyhow besides the waking up choking i am finding myself laying in a pool of drool. I never drooled before in the past. Why now? What is different now that I am having so many issues. I know I may need to see a doctor. Question what type of doctor as I am not the kind of person who sees a doctor for anything unless I am in great pain.


Quilla February 23, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Victoria, did you find an answer? I am sort of going through your same symptoms…I was beginning to worry. Please reply; thanks.


megan March 2, 2015 at 11:26 am

i do the same thing happened last night. i wake up alot and can not breath but sometimes it is way worse i feel if my airway is actually blocked and then i panic but i am lucky cause so far these rare and i pray they stay rare only last about 10 sec. before my airway opens but what worries me is the fact that i am a 27 yr old female that is healthy to my knowledge and am also skinny i weight 125 pounds at 5’4 so i dunno why this is happening to me. but what is really scary is i do not have insurance to even see a doc about it. keep in prayers i guess but sleeping on your side seems to help.


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