Everyone clears their throat from time to time. Whether it’s to get someone’s attention, as a nervous habit, or because it feels like you have something stuck in it, there are a number of reasons that make us go ahem.
When throat clearing becomes persistent, however, it’s important to find out what’s causing it. Chronic throat clearing could damage your vocal chords over time and is often the cause of an underlying condition. Identifying the cause is key to curbing the throat clearing.
Read on to learn more about throat clearing, why we do it, and when it could be the sign of a more serious problem.
Chronic throat clearing isn’t a diagnosis alone, but rather a symptom of another underlying condition. Some common causes of chronic throat clearing include:
Most people who complain of chronic throat clearing have a disorder called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). It’s caused when matter from the stomach — both acidic and nonacidic — travels up to the throat region, causing an uncomfortable sensation that makes you clear your throat. Most people with LPR don’t experience other symptoms that typically go along with reflux, such as heartburn and indigestion.
Treatment for LPR may include medication and surgery in some severe cases. Lifestyle changes and home remedies may be effective in many cases, too. Here are some things you can try at home:
- Elevate the head of your bed 30 degree or more.
- Avoid eating or drinking within three hours of lying down.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid spicy, fatty, and acidic foods.
- Follow a Mediterranean diet, which may be as effective as medication to resolve LPR symptoms.
- Lose weight.
- Reduce stress.
2. Postnasal drainage
Another common cause of throat clearing is postnasal drip. Postnasal drip happens when your body starts producing extra mucus. You may feel it dripping down your throat from the back of your nose. Other symptoms may include:
- a cough that’s worse at night
- nausea, which can be caused from excess mucus moving into your stomach
- a sore, scratchy throat
- bad breath
Allergies are a common cause of postnasal drip. Other causes include:
- a deviated septum
- cold temperatures
- viral infections, which can lead to cold or flu
- sinus infections
- changes in the weather
- dry air
- eating spicy food
- certain medications
Treatment for post nasal drip varies depending on the cause. For example, if it’s related to allergies, avoiding the allergen or taking medications may stop the drip. Other treatments for postnasal drip may include:
- over-the-counter decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
- antihistamines, such as loratadine (Claritin)
- saline nasal sprays
- sleeping with your head elevated
- staying hydrated
- drinking warm liquids
3. Zenker’s diverticulum
Though rare, sometimes the esophagus has an abnormal pouch that prevents food from traveling to the stomach. This is known as Zenker’s diverticulum. The condition occasionally causes the contents of the pouch and mucus to get stuck in the throat.
Treatment for Zenker’s diverticulum typically involves surgery.
4. Chronic motor tic disorder
Chronic motor tic disorder involves brief, uncontrollable, spasmlike movements or phonic tics. It typically begins before age 18 and lasts four to six years.
Other symptoms of chronic motor tic disorder may include:
- facial grimacing
- blinking, twitching, jerking or shrugging
- sudden uncontrollable movements of the legs, arms, or body
- grunts and groans
Treatment varies depending on the severity of symptoms, but may include behavior therapy and medications.
5. Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes both a physical tic and a vocal outburst. Other symptoms of Tourette syndrome may include:
- eye blinking and darting
- nose twitching
- mouth movements
- head jerking
- repeating your own words or phrases, or those of others
Treatment for Tourette syndrome may include neurological treatment, medications, and therapy.
6. Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder with streptococcus (PANDAS)
- motor tics
- obsessions and compulsions
- moodiness or irritability
- panic attacks
Treatment for PANDAS may include therapy, counseling, and the use of medications.
7. Food allergies
In some cases, a food allergy or sensitivity may cause a tickling in your throat that makes you clear it. Dairy is a frequent culprit, but foods such as eggs, rice, and soy may also cause the sensation. The treatment in such cases is avoiding the food that leads to symptoms.
8. A side effect of medication
Some blood pressure medications can cause a tickle in your throat that contributes to chronic throat clearing. If you’re taking blood pressure medication and are frequently clearing your throat, talk to your doctor about a potential substitute.
In some cases, there may be no underlying condition causing the throat clearing. Instead, it may be a habit or something you subconsciously do when you’re anxious or stressed.
The following techniques may help you stop the habit:
- Drink more fluids.
- Monitor your throat clearing or ask someone else to help you monitor it.
- Find an alternative activity, such as swallowing or tapping your fingers.
If your throat clearing is persistent or having a negative effect on your life, seek treatment. You doctor will do an examination and perhaps recommend an endoscopy to get a better look at what’s happening in the throat. Allergy testing may be recommended as well.
Long-term treatment for chronic throat clearing depends on determining the underlying condition causing it. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, medications, or, in some cases, surgery.
If you notice yourself clearing your throat more often, you can try to address it with some simple home remedies. When you feel the urge to clear your throat, try one of these techniques instead:
- sip water
- suck on sugar-free candy
- swallow twice
Everyone clears their throat occasionally. But when it becomes persistent, it may be a sign of an underlying condition. Chronic throat clearing can also damage your vocal chords over time.
If simple home remedies don’t help stop the throat clearing, seek treatment as soon as possible to identify the cause and begin treatment.