Swelling or tightness in your throat may be a symptom of asthma, but it could also be due to a co-occurring condition like GERD or vocal cord dysfunction. In some cases, it could signal a severe allergic reaction.
Asthma, a common lung condition, is perhaps best known for symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. But it’s possible to experience other symptoms that extend beyond your lungs, including around your chest and throat.
If you’re experiencing any unusual sensations in your throat, it’s important to talk with a doctor to rule out allergies or another condition. Here’s what you need to know about possible throat symptoms as they relate to asthma.
Asthma causes inflammation in the airways in your lungs. It’s also possible to experience the following symptoms in your throat:
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- pain that extends to your chest
Throat symptoms, like other
- cold, dry weather
- viral infections
- strong emotions, such as stress, crying, or laughing
- environmental factors, such as air pollution or secondhand smoke
What to do if you feel like something is stuck in your throat during an asthma attack
If you’re experiencing an asthma exacerbation, you may consider taking a quick-relief medication, such as a rescue inhaler, as prescribed by a doctor. These help stop asthma attack symptoms as they occur.
However, if throat swelling is accompanied by severe difficulties with breathing or swallowing, seek emergency help. These may be signs of a potentially life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which may occur with allergies.
Symptoms in your throat, such as swelling, tightness, or the feeling that something is “stuck,” could also be due to common comorbidities of asthma. These may include sinusitis or allergies.
As a rule of thumb, if any throat symptoms last longer than a week, you could be experiencing allergies or sinusitis.
Sinusitis may also cause postnasal drip, which can cause soreness, swelling, or feel like a lump in your throat. Postnasal drip may also trigger your asthma.
If you have allergic asthma, you may experience symptoms of allergies and asthma at the same time. This can create different sensations in the throat.
Oral allergy syndrome
Another possibility is oral allergy syndrome (OAS), which involves cross-reactivity to certain types of produce due to an underlying pollen allergy. This can lead to throat swelling after eating the offending food.
For example, if you have a birch tree allergy, you may be sensitive to apples, bananas, and carrots during spring. Another example is ragweed allergy, which can cause symptoms in the fall after you eat zucchini, cucumbers, and melons.
While usually mild, OAS can cause throat swelling. Other symptoms of OAS often include itching or swelling in your:
Vocal cord dysfunction
Vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) can sound and feel very similar to asthma. Both VCD and asthma feature wheezing, coughing, and hoarseness. But they are separate conditions.
In VCD, your vocal cord muscles tighten, making it difficult to breathe. You may also experience changes in your voice.
It’s possible to have both asthma and VCD. But asthma treatments
The best way to manage throat symptoms in asthma is to learn your triggers and avoid them when possible. An up-to-date asthma treatment plan can also help.
In addition to having a quick-relief inhaler on hand, you may need long-term medications to treat your asthma. These daily medications help manage underlying inflammation in your airways to prevent asthma symptoms.
Options may include:
- inhaled corticosteroids
- inhaled long-acting beta-agonist/corticosteroid combination
- inhaled long-acting anticholinergics
- oral leukotriene modifiers
- certain injectable medications to reduce inflammation
If you have allergic asthma, a doctor may refer you to an allergist for evaluation and treatment. In addition to avoiding your triggers, they may recommend medications or allergy shots to help treat allergies and prevent subsequent allergic asthma symptoms.
Another common asthma trigger is acid reflux, with or without heartburn.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is considered chronic acid reflux, is a comorbidity of asthma. GERD can worsen breathing difficulties and other symptoms.
GERD is a digestive disorder that may develop at any age. It’s characterized by the leaking of acids from your stomach to your esophagus.
Asthma is a risk factor for GERD because it may cause relaxation of the lower esophagus sphincter, allowing stomach acids to flow back up.
GERD can also be a side effect of untreated asthma.
When untreated, acid reflux can exacerbate asthma due to airway irritation. This can create an undesirable
While it’s typical to have acid reflux occasionally, it’s important to talk with a doctor if you’re regularly experiencing possible symptoms of GERD. Key throat symptoms may include:
- swallowing difficulties
- feeling like there is something painful stuck in your throat
- chronic sore throat
- hoarse voice
Other symptoms of GERD may include the following:
- tasting stomach acid after eating or drinking
- bad breath
- gum inflammation
- excess saliva
If you have asthma, you may be able to decrease GERD-related throat symptoms by reducing risk factors for acid reflux. Consider the following steps:
- Eat small meals throughout the day rather than a few big meals.
- Avoid acidic, fatty, or spicy foods.
- Limit or eliminate alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate from your diet.
- Avoid lying down within a few hours of eating.
- Maintain a moderate weight.
- Talk with a doctor about antacids or proton pump inhibitors.
- Avoid theophylline, if a doctor recommends doing so.
Asthma causes inflammation in your airways, which can lead to symptoms such as chest pain, wheezing, and coughing. While not common, you may also experience throat symptoms. This is more common if you have allergies, sinusitis, or GERD.
If you continue to experience swelling, itching, or a feeling of something caught in your throat, contact a doctor for help. They may adjust your asthma treatment and run tests for other conditions, such as allergies or acid reflux.