Throat clearing is often more of a habit than a necessity. Clearing your throat is a functional response to irritating substances like dust, bacteria, food particles, pollen, etc.
Several structures from your respiratory and digestive system could result in the causes of throat clearing, including the esophagus, larynx, and vocal cords. While clearing your throat once in a while is normal, excessive or persistent throat clearing can be irritating.
Most people who complain of persistent throat clearing have a disorder called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). It's caused when matter from your stomach — both acidic and nonacidic — travels up to the throat region, causing an uncomfortable sensation that makes you clear your throat.
What exactly happens when you clear your throat?
When you clear your throat, the folds of your vocal cord (two bands of smooth muscle tissue found in the larynx (voice box)), come together in a very forceful way. The glands located above your vocal cords (the esophagus or the food pipe and the trachea or the windpipe) become inflamed and start producing excess mucus trapping the irritants entering the nose. This lubricates your vocal cords.
Excessive production of mucus in your throat can get irritating and increases your tendency to keep clearing your throat. If you keep clearing your throat over and over again, the vocal folds do not have a chance to get back to their normal state and your vocal cords are at risk of injury.
Symptoms accompanied with throat clearing
Common symptoms that are accompanied with throat clearing include hoarseness/heaviness in your voice, loud or noisy breathing, sore throat, nasal congestion (due to excess mucus build-up), running nose, cough, bad breath, and a feeling of drainage in the back of your nose (known as a postnasal drip).
What could be causing this?
1. Respiratory Causes (related to your respiratory system that includes your airways, lungs, and other organs and tissues that help you breathe)
a) Throat Allergies: Environmental pollution, bad air quality, eating spicy and oily food, pollen or mould, smoking, etc., are some of the commonest causes of a throat allergy. When you have such an allergy, the membranes lining your throat produce excessive mucus to get rid of/flush out the allergen, leading to the constant clearing of your throat.
The best way to prevent falling prey to this is to use allergen avoidance techniques, especially using an effective face mask when you are out in polluted areas or during seasons such as the spring when quantities of dust and pollen are high in the air.
b) Postnasal Drip: If you suffer from frequent sinusitis (infection of your sinuses), allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever is a type of inflammation in the nose), or have enlarged adenoids (patches of tissue that are high up in your throat, just behind the nose), you will have a postnasal drip (PND).
PND is an annoying mucous discharge that slides down to the back of the throat and causes constant irritation and a desire to clear your throat. If you have any of the above-mentioned allergies, it is important to take medication for the primary condition.
2. Gastrointestinal Causes (related to your digestive system that includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus)
a) Acid Reflux: Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LPR) is a condition in which acid that is made in your stomach travels up the esophagus and gets to the throat. While this happens, food particles and stomach acid can end up in your larynx and vocal cords. This leads to irritation, resulting in frequent throat clearing.
The primary symptoms of LPR may be dryness of the throat, a choking sensation, or a constant desire to clear your throat. Proper medication will help avoid the triggers for LPR.
b) Swallowing Disorders: Difficulty in swallowing food, due to structural abnormalities of the esophagus can cause food particles to be trapped in your esophagus. This results in bad breath, coughing, and irritation in the throat, leading to excessive throat clearing.
3. Other Reasons
a) Medication: A large number of common medicines can cause throat itching/irritation or a chronic dry cough. Medicines like ACE (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme) inhibitors, given for high blood pressure (hypertension), often cause itchiness and irritation of the throat as a side-effect.
b) Habit: You may develop a habitual throat clearing due to the perception of an irritating sensation in your throat, even though there is nothing causing throat irritation.
When can throat clearing become serious?
If you notice blood in your oral discharge, or if symptoms are persistent for a long time, you must consult your ENT specialist for an examination. If you smoke regularly, then throat clearing can pose a serious threat to your health and it is advisable to quit smoking and seek proper consultation immediately.
Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.