What to do about tightness in the throat
Tightness in the throat may not indicate anything too serious. In some situations, however, emergency treatment should be sought, especially if accompanied by breathing difficulties or trouble swallowing.
Read on to learn more about tightness in the throat, including its causes and treatment options.
- Allergies or intolerances to food and other substances can cause tightness in the throat.
- Home remedies can help alleviate symptoms in the short-term.
- In most cases, tightness in the throat is not serious.
How does tightness in the throat feel?
Tightness in the throat may have many different causes.
Tightness in the throat may feel as if:
- the throat is swollen
- the throat muscles are locked
- there is a lump in the throat
- a tight band is wound around the neck
- tenderness, pressure, or pain in the throat
- the feeling of needing to swallow frequently
Some of the possible reasons for tightness in the throat include:
Allergies are typically more serious than intolerances. They occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies something, such as a food or pollen allergen, as a threat to the body.
The immune system releases chemicals to combat these allergens, leading to symptoms, such as a blocked nose or an itchy, tight throat.
A severe, acute allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. Anaphylactic reactions can be triggered by allergens that include:
- certain foods
- insect venom
Research indicates that 1 in every 50 Americans experiences anaphylaxis, although it has been suggested that the rate may be closer to 1 in 20.
Anyone with symptoms of anaphylaxis should get emergency medical treatment. In addition to tightness in the throat, symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
- pain in the chest
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- abdominal pain
- swelling of the face or tongue
Anxiety may cause tightness in throat.
Other symptoms of a panic attack include:
- chest pains
- feeling of loss of control
- rapid heart rate
- sense of fear or despair
- tingling or numb hands
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
When acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus, it can cause a burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn.
If heartburn occurs more than twice a week, it may be diagnosed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). According to the American College of Gastroenterology, some research indicates that over 15 million Americans experience heartburn daily.
Heartburn can also cause tightness in the throat. If left untreated, GERD can lead to ulcers, permanent esophageal damage, and can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
GERD symptoms include:
- bad breath or halitosis
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling of a lump in the throat
- sour or bitter taste in the mouth
A goiter occurs when there is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is the butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. The thyroid gland produces hormones that influence the metabolic rate of the body, among other functions.
Goiters are linked to a thyroid gland that produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little hormone (hypothyroidism). Also, a thyroid that is producing the right amount of hormone can cause a goiter, according to the American Thyroid Association.
Along with throat tightness, symptoms of a goiter include:
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
- swelling in front of the throat and neck
If there is an infection in the tonsils or elsewhere in a person's throat, it can lead to a sore, swollen, or tight throat. Also, a person with a throat infection may experience:
There may be other causes of tightness in the throat, including:
- drainage from a sinus infection
- hay fever seasonal allergies
- exposure to certain chemicals
What are the treatment options?
Treatment for tightness in the throat depends on the underlying cause and may include:
An EpiPen may help to treat anaphylaxis.
A shot of epinephrine is a key medication used to treat anaphylaxis. People with known acute allergies should carry an auto-injector, such as Adrenaclick or EpiPen, to use if they have an attack.
Some people with allergies may benefit from immunotherapy, which is treatment that desensitizes people to specific allergens.
If a person benefits from allergy shots, the doctor will inject small doses of allergens under the skin over time.
This process may last for at least a few years until the individual's allergy is no longer triggered.
Anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy or medications or a combination of both. It can also be helpful to try meditation, relaxation exercises, and healthy lifestyle changes.
GERD is treated with medications, dietary and lifestyle changes, or both.
Some of the medications used to treat GERD include:
- Antacids: Several antacids can be purchased online (Rolaids, Tums) and are also available over-the-counter.
- H2-receptor blockers: These drugs (which can be bought online as Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac) help to reduce stomach acid production, with famotidine's effect lasting the longest, often up to 12 hours. They are available over-the-counter or on prescription.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs, which can also be bought online, (Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec) work by blocking acid production for longer periods than H2-receptor blockers. They help alleviate GERD symptoms while also allowing esophageal tissue time to heal. PPI therapy can be obtained on prescription or over-the-counter.
Rarely, and in severe cases of GERD, surgery may be necessary.
People with a goiter may require surgery or, in cases of hyperthyroidism, radioactive iodine therapy.
Others may notice symptoms improve with medication to treat hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections are unaffected by antibiotics and need to resolve on their own. It is important to rest and stay hydrated when fighting any infection.
People can prevent future infections by washing their hands regularly and avoiding contact with those who are sick.
While medical treatment is often necessary for persistent tightness in the throat, some symptomatic treatments can be achieved without a prescription.
- Allergies: Those with food allergies should avoid their triggers. Antihistamines may help to relieve allergy symptoms when they do occur.
- Anxiety: People with anxiety can try deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation exercises to stay calm. A healthful diet, exercising, and limiting caffeine and alcohol can also reduce anxiety.
- GERD: Heartburn-induced throat tightness can be alleviated through dietary changes. It is essential to eat slowly and avoid overeating. Also, it helps to wait at least 3 hours before lying down after meals, and to maintain a healthy weight. Antacids can assist when used once in awhile.
- Inflammation or pain: Ibuprofen available online (Advil, Motrin), or another similar pain reliever may help people with throat inflammation or pain related to an infectious or noninfectious cause. Gargling with warm water and salt several times a day can also reduce pain and swelling in the throat.
When to see a doctor
Tightness in one's throat can be annoying and uncomfortable, as well as debilitating. Therefore, a person should contact a doctor if the sensation persists for more than a few days.
It is important to get prompt medical attention if the following symptoms are present:
- chest pains
- fever of 103.0°F or more
- sore throat for 48 hours or more
- stiffness in the neck
- swollen lymph nodes along the neck
Tightness in the throat can be life-threatening. People with allergies should take a growing tightness in the throat seriously as it could be anaphylaxis. It is vital to seek emergency medical treatment, especially after exposure to the allergen, before symptoms become severe.
Many of the conditions that underlie throat tightness are easily treatable, such as GERD and common throat infections. Others, including thyroid disorders, can be managed through medical interventions and perhaps lifestyle changes.
People with severe acute allergies should carry an epinephrine pen and avoid contact with their triggers, whenever possible.