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Constantly Clearing Your Throat? Here’s What to Try

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Constant Throat Clearing: Practical Tips for Relief

Habitual throat clearing is the constant need to clear the throat of mucus or phlegm regardless of if there is actually any apparent blockage. It can be caused by an array of factors, including chronic bronchitis, allergies, acid reflux, anxiety, or irritation of the vocal cords. According to the Journal of Voice, habitual throat clearing is one of the most common voice complaints, which increases with age. It has become a widespread problem among people today, affecting both men and women of all ages, in one way or another.

The need to clear one's throat excessively can lead to negative impacts on daily life, ranging from disrupted sleep to voice loss, throat pain, and annoyance from those around you. It can also lead to throat irritation and damage to vocal cords if left untreated. Fortunately, there are various treatment options available to help individuals overcome the impulse to repeatedly clear their throat and associated symptoms, from medication to speech therapy and many lifestyle changes.

In this article, we will delve into an in-depth examination of habitual throat clearing. We will explore its causes and treatments, including alternative therapies, and highlight the situations that warrant professional help. So, if you catch yourself constantly clearing your throat, keep reading to discover some effective tips for relief.

Causes of Habitual Throat Clearing

Habitual throat clearing can be associated with numerous underlying medical conditions that lead to chronic irritation of the throat, resulting in a need to clear it excessively. Below are some of the most common causes of habitual throat clearing:

Chronic bronchitis:

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, causing narrowing, mucus production, and coughing episodes. It is usually caused by smoking, allergies, or other respiratory diseases. Habitual throat clearing can result from an obstruction of the bronchial tubes, forcing the individual to clear their throat regularly.

Acid reflux disease:

Acid reflux occurs when the stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation of the lining. This condition can prompt habitual throat clearing, as the refluxed acid can cause throat irritation and a constant feeling of needing to clear their throat.

Allergies:

Allergies, such as seasonal allergies or food allergies, can trigger the immune system to react excessively, producing mucus, leading to a need to clear the throat. It can also cause postnasal drip, and irritation in the throat, resulting in frequent throat clearing.

Anxiety:

Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms, such as muscle tension and stress, leading to habitual throat clearing. The anxiety can also cause dryness of the mouth and throat, resulting in persistent irritation and the need to clear.

Vocal cord irritation:

Vocal cord irritation can be caused by excessive voice use or misuse, resulting in vocal nodules or polyps. Individuals who strain their voice over time, such as singers or teachers, can develop these conditions. It can cause discomfort in the throat, leading to habitual throat clearing in an attempt to alleviate the irritation on the vocal cords.

It is essential to address the underlying cause of habitual throat clearing to alleviate the symptoms effectively. If you are experiencing constant throat clearing, consult with a medical professional to determine the best course of treatment.

Treatment Options for Habitual Throat Clearing

There are different approaches to manage habitual throat clearing, depending on the underlying cause. The following are some of the most common treatment options:

Medications for underlying conditions:

Medications can help manage the underlying medical conditions that cause habitual throat clearing. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the root cause of the condition. Treatments can include:

  • Bronchodilators: used to open the airways in case of bronchitis or asthma.
  • Antacids: used to neutralize stomach acid during acid reflux.
  • Allergy medications: including antihistamines and decongestants, to reduce nasal congestion and post-nasal drip.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: specifically prescribed for those with anxiety-related throat clearing.

Speech therapy:

Speech therapy is commonly recommended for people who clear their throat excessively due to a vocal cord disorder. A speech therapist can assist in improving voice efficiency and reducing the need to clear the throat frequently. Treatments can include:

  • Vocal hygiene techniques: this involves recommendations to reduce vocal overuse and promoting good vocal health.
  • Vocal cord exercises: exercises help improve vocal cord flexibility and reduce strain during phonation.

Lifestyle changes:

Making small changes in your lifestyle or habits can also help reduce habitual throat clearing. Make sure to consult with a physician or specialist to determine the underlying cause of the habitual throat clearing before attempting these changes. Treatments can include:

  • Quitting smoking: avoiding irritants like cigarettes is crucial for people with irritated bronchial tubes or vocal cords.
  • Avoiding irritants: staying away from pollution, dust, or fragrances that can irritate the airways might be helpful for those whose excessive clearing is related to environmental factors.
  • Hydrating regularly: keeping the body hydrated is essential to keep the throat from drying out.
  • Managing stress: Practicing healthy stress management techniques like meditation, guided imagery, and deep breathing can be beneficial for those with anxiety-related habitual throat clearing.

It is crucial to seek a healthcare professional's advice to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for chronic throat clearing. Understanding the underlying cause of the condition is the first step in finding effective relief.

Alternative Therapies for Habitual Throat Clearing

While conventional treatments can be effective, some individuals may prefer to try alternative therapies to relieve symptoms of habitual throat clearing. Some alternative therapies that may be helpful include:

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an ancient practice that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points on the body to relieve pain and promote healing. Some people believe that acupuncture can help relieve habitual throat clearing by addressing the underlying imbalances in the body that contribute to the condition. However, more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture for habitual throat clearing.

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is a type of therapy that uses hypnosis to help individuals make positive changes in their thoughts and behavior. Hypnotherapy may be helpful for those whose throat clearing is related to anxiety or stress. A hypnotherapist can help the individual learn relaxation techniques to reduce the anxiety that triggers habitual throat clearing.

Herbal remedies

Some herbal remedies may soothe the throat and reduce the need to clear it frequently. One of the most popular herbs for this purpose is licorice root. Licorice root has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that may help reduce inflammation in the throat. However, it is important to note that herbal remedies can have side effects and may interact with other medications. It is important to consult a healthcare professional before taking any herbal remedies for habitual throat clearing.

It is essential to talk to a healthcare professional before trying any alternative therapies. Some therapies may have side effects or interact with other medications. The healthcare provider can provide guidance on which treatments may be most effective for the individual's specific needs.

When to Seek Professional Help for Habitual Throat Clearing

Individuals who experience habitual throat clearing should consult a healthcare professional if the condition persists and interferes with daily life. Symptoms that warrant medical attention include:

Severe coughing:

Habitual throat clearing may lead to coughing, but if the coughing becomes persistent and severe, it is important to seek medical attention. Severe coughing may indicate an underlying respiratory condition that requires medical intervention.

Difficulty breathing:

Habitual throat clearing may be accompanied by shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. These symptoms require immediate medical attention as they may indicate an underlying respiratory condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Persistent hoarseness:

Habitual throat clearing may cause vocal cord irritation and result in persistent hoarseness. Hoarseness that lasts longer than a few weeks may require medical attention as it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition such as vocal cord nodules or polyps.

Seeking help from a specialist:

Depending on the underlying cause of the habitual throat clearing, a healthcare professional may refer the individual to a specialist. Some specialists who can help individuals with habitual throat clearing include:

Pulmonologist:

A pulmonologist specializes in the treatment of respiratory disorders. Individuals with chronic bronchitis or COPD may benefit from seeing a pulmonologist.

Gastroenterologist:

A gastroenterologist specializes in the digestive system. Individuals with acid reflux disease may benefit from seeing a gastroenterologist.

Allergist:

An allergist specializes in the treatment of allergies and related conditions. Individuals with allergies that cause habitual throat clearing may benefit from seeing an allergist.

Otolaryngologist:

An otolaryngologist specializes in the treatment of ear, nose, and throat disorders. Individuals with vocal cord irritation may benefit from seeing an otolaryngologist.

Remember that seeking medical advice or seeing a specialist can help individuals receive an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan, which can lead to symptom relief and an improvement in one's quality of life.

Conclusion

In conclusion, habitual throat clearing can be a frustrating and embarrassing condition, but there are numerous treatment options available to help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

Some common causes of habitual throat clearing include chronic bronchitis, acid reflux disease, allergies, anxiety, and vocal cord irritation. Depending on the underlying cause, treatment options may include medications, speech therapy, lifestyle changes, or alternative therapies.

It is important to seek professional help if habitual throat clearing persists and interferes with daily life. Symptoms that warrant medical attention include severe coughing, difficulty breathing, and persistent hoarseness. A healthcare professional may refer individuals to a specialist such as a pulmonologist, gastroenterologist, allergist, or otolaryngologist.

With proper care and treatment, most individuals with habitual throat clearing can experience relief from symptoms and a positive outlook for improvement. Don't hesitate to seek professional help and take control of your health.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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