Waking Up Choking and Gasping for Air

Waking up choking in the middle of the night can be a scary experience for anyone. If you find that you’re waking up choking whilst experiencing other symptoms, too, you could have one of three medical problems. We talk you through these problems and where to seek help below.

Sleep Apnea

Waking up choking is a very common symptom of obstructive sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea is caused by obstructions in the throat – this could happen because you are overweight, because you have swollen tissues in the back of your throat i.e. swollen adenoids and tonsils, or simply because the way you are sleeping is causing normal tissues in your throat to fall into your airway and obstruct your breathing. As you can imagine, this causes some people to snore very loudly, or to wake up choking and gasping for breath, or to cease breathing altogether. This also causes you to wake up many times during the night – in some cases, over 100 times in one night. As you can imagine, this type of apnea causes a whole host of other symptoms along with the waking up during the night and it’s important to get it diagnosed and treated straight away. If you experience waking up choking along with having a dry mouth, headaches in the mornings, feeling sleepy and fatigued all day even though you thought you had a good night’s sleep, you could have sleep apnea. You’ll need to have a sleep study in order to be properly diagnosed – go to your doctor for more information.


Depending on how you wake up choking and if you’re suffering from any other symptoms, you could be suffering with undiagnosed allergies. This will probably be the first route that your doctor will take with you, as diagnosing allergies is easier and less expensive than diagnosing sleep apnea. You may have an allergy test and then if that comes back negative, you could then go for a sleep study. If you’re waking up choking and you’re experiencing rashes, redness, tears in your eyes or on your face, a constriction of your throat, you could be experiencing an allergic reaction. Keep all pets out of your bedroom, as well as plants, and keep your windows shut at night. Usually, allergy tests are relatively simple tests whereby you either have blood taken, or you have a skin prick test or patch test where some of the allergen is put into contact with your skin, or you could also have an oral test, whereby you are given some of the food you think you are allergic to in increasing amounts so that the doctor can see how you react to the food.


GERD is short for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. The most common symptom of this disease is heartburn, or acid reflux. This is a condition whereby the liquid content of your stomach can back up, making its way into your throat up through your chest, which is why it’s commonly referred to as heartburn. It can be a very painful condition and is often found in conjunction with sleep apnea. It can be brought on by either bending over, lifting heavy objects, eating a heavy meal, eating something that contains a lot of salt or eating something especially spicy. GERD could cause you to wake up choking on acid in the middle of the night if you suffer with it particularly badly, as lying down causes your body to be in exactly the right position for the acid to travel up to your throat and mouth. Go to your doctor if you are concerned about GERD, as it can be controlled with medication and healthy eating choices relatively easily.