Do you find that you’re clearing your throat almost constantly? If so, you’re probably frustrated, and causing those around you to feel the same way. After all, clearing your throat can be disruptive to conversations, get in the way of your ability to fall asleep, or lead to embarrassment in places that typically require some semblance of quiet (such as a library or movie theater). Here’s a look at a handful of reasons that might lie behind your excessive throat-clearing.
1. Acid reflux
If you often clear your throat, you may have problems associated with acid reflux, which typically occurs when stomach acid doesn’t stay where it should. The end result is often a temporary throat irritation, and you clear your throat because doing so alleviates the sensation. Certain medications can keep stomach acid at bay, but it’s important to remember that having too little acid in your body can also produce negative effects. Your body actually needs stomach acid for optimal functionality. As with any potential reason behind clearing your throat, it’s best to consult with a medical professional to decide what to do.
2. Chronic rhinitis
You could have excessive amounts of mucus in the back of your throat, which is referred to as chronic rhinitis. In this case, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist is probably your best bet, as this is an issue involving your nose and sinuses. The excessive mucous production leads to a stuffy or runny nose, often producing an annoying drip in the back of your throat. The end result is a tickle in that area, which brings about the urge to clear your throat. Approximately 90% of chronic rhinitis cases involve allergies; anything from house dust mites to pollen can create too much mucous in the back of your throat.
3. Tourette’s syndrome
This syndrome is mostly associated with a random series of uncontrollable urges and tics, and commonly involves moving in very specific patterns or sudden bouts of cursing. However, it may also present with what the Mayo Clinic refers to as “simple tics”—these are brief, repetitive and limited in terms of the muscle groups used. Clearing your throat is indeed considered a possible indication of this syndrome; it’s listed as a simple vocal tic, as is frequently coughing or grunting. Experts say that tics (both simple and complex) associated with Tourette syndrome may intensify during times of stress and anxiety.
4. Certain medications
Virtually all medications come with a list of side effects, but some are particularly frequently associated with excessive throat-clearing. If possible, avoid ACE Inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blocker medications, which help control blood pressure and are also used to treat certain heart conditions. They’ve been found to produce a tickle in the back of the throat, which increases your urge to cough and clear your throat almost incessantly. Consider speaking to your doctor about changing to a different medication, though it may turn out that treating the condition with these drugs is more important than preventing your throat-clearing.
5. Anatomical abnormalities
All of your throat clearing may have nothing to do with medications or mucous build-up, and instead could be due to the fact that you have larger-than-normal tonsils, an unusually long uvula (which is that piece of skin that dangles in the center part at the back of your throat). If these structures are abnormal in size, they may touch parts of your mouth or throat, irritating it to the point where you feel the need to frequently clear your throat. If this turns out to be your problem, surgical procedures can easily resolve the issue.
6. Vocal cord paralysis
When the nerve impulses to the larynx—your voice box—are affected, vocal cord paralysis could develop. Everything from viral infections to surgical damage could bring about this problem, which affects your ability to breathe, speak and drink. Experts say that symptoms of vocal cord paralysis include frequent throat clearing, but the problem can also involve an inability to speak loudly or create voice hoarseness.
7. Anxiety and nervousness
Experts maintain that when anxiety sets in, it can manifest physically—most notably in the throat area. Excessive throat clearing, a burning sensation in that area, and throat tightness and dryness can often be telltale signs of anxiety build-up and general nervousness.
Make sure you take steps to look into the reasons behind your ongoing throat clearing by asking your doctor to evaluate your medications or to better assess the possible causes of the habit. Furthermore, if you suspect anxiety is playing a large role, try to engage in stress-relieving practices such as meditation, getting more sleep, or exercising more often.