There are many possible causes of a frequent need to clear the throat. These range from allergies and acid reflux to medication side effects and eating habits.
A person may clear their throat often because it feels as though something is tickling or stuck in the throat. These sensations can occur even when nothing is there.
Throat clearing itself is not a medical condition, but it can be a symptom of one.
In this article, we explore some possible causes of frequent throat clearing. We also explain when to see a doctor and list the general treatment options.
The sinuses, throat, and nose all produce mucus that a person usually swallows unconsciously. When mucus starts to build up or trickle down the back of the throat, this is known as postnasal drip. Causes of postnasal drip include infections, allergies, and acid reflux.
As well as feeling the need to clear the throat frequently, a person with postnasal drip may also experience:
- a sore throat
- frequent swallowing
Treating the cause of postnasal drip is the best way to reduce throat clearing and other symptoms. The treatment options may include:
- antihistamine medications for sinus and nasal allergies
- antibiotics for bacterial infections
- antacids, H2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux
Learn more about acid reflux and its treatments here.
Other tips for relieving postnasal drip include staying hydrated and using decongestants, nasal sprays, and saline irrigation methods.
The most common cause of postnasal drip is allergies. A person experiencing postnasal drip should consult a doctor to establish the specific cause of their symptoms.
A specific type of reflux called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), also known as silent reflux, often causes frequent throat clearing.
LPR occurs when acid from the stomach flows back up the esophagus and into the larynx and pharynx, leading to throat irritation.
Additional symptoms of LPR can include:
- trouble swallowing
- a sore throat
Lifestyle interventions are also an important part of managing a person’s symptoms. These include:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- quitting tobacco product use
- avoiding foods that trigger symptoms
- limiting alcohol intake
- avoiding eating just before going to bed
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to the presence of substances, called allergens, that are usually harmless. Common allergens include pollen, dust, and animal dander.
Nasal allergies can lead to excess mucus production, which can cause frequent throat clearing.
Other symptoms of throat allergies include:
Among a range of treatment options for nasal allergies are:
- corticosteroid intranasal sprays
- nasal saline spray
- leukotriene inhibitors, such as montelukast (Sinulari)
A person may wish to use decongestants for short-term relief. However, these medications are not suitable for long-term use due to the risk of severe side effects, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
If a person has severe allergy symptoms and prescription treatments are not helping, doctors may recommend allergy shots, which can help a person build a tolerance to a specific allergen.
Also, a person can reduce or prevent their symptoms by avoiding known allergens when possible.
Swallowing difficulties may result from neurological issues or structural abnormalities inside the body. These problems can also be the result of severe acid reflux.
Difficulty swallowing can lead to throat irritation and frequent throat clearing. A person may also experience heartburn as a result of acid reflux.
If a person has trouble swallowing, they may also experience:
- choking when eating
The treatment for difficulty swallowing depends on the cause. Options for remedying swallowing problems can include:
- speech therapy
- surgery to widen the esophagus
- eating a liquid diet
Doctors commonly prescribe angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to treat high blood pressure.
These drugs can cause nasal congestion and postnasal drip, which may lead to a person clearing their throat frequently.
Currently, no studies have indicated whether throat clearing is a common side effect of ACE inhibitor use.
However, research suggests that
Anyone who experiences any concerning or bothersome side effects of medication should speak with their doctor, who may suggest changing the dosage or switching treatments.
People may feel the need to clear their throat after eating. When eating, some food may stick in the throat and create a small obstruction, which may lead to frequent throat clearing.
Eating food may also worsen several of the above conditions. For example, a person may have an allergic reaction to something they ate, resulting in irritation, or spicy foods may worsen existing postnasal drip symptoms.
Other conditions, such as cricopharyngeal dysfunction, and
If a person regularly has to clear their throat after eating, small habit changes may help, such as chewing food more thoroughly or introducing softer, or even liquid-based, meals into the diet.
However, if eating food is worsening a preexisting condition, treating the underlying cause of frequent throat clearing will be the best course of action.
If a person regularly feels the need to clear their throat or cough after eating, they should consult a doctor to assess what may be causing this symptom.
Tics are sudden and repetitive twitches, sounds, or movements that a person cannot control.
According to the
- persistent vocal or motor tic disorder
- provisional tic disorder
- Tourette’s syndrome
According to a 2015 study, throat clearing is one of the five most common symptoms of tic disorders. The cause of these disorders is unclear, but
Other symptoms of tic disorders can vary greatly but may include:
- frequent blinking
- head jerking
- word or sound repetition
- snapping the fingers
The treatment options will depend on the type of disorder and the severity of a person’s symptoms, but medications and behavioral therapy can often help.
When abnormal growths — such as polyps, nodules, or cysts — grow on the vocal cords, a person may feel as though something unusual is in the back of their throat. If they do not know that this is a physical growth, they may try to clear their throat in an attempt to dislodge the perceived object.
Causes of these growths can include:
- tobacco smoking
- overusing or straining the vocal cords, such as from excessive singing or shouting
- frequent or strenuous coughing
The symptoms of vocal cord growths can also include:
- a scratchy voice
- pain when speaking
First, a doctor usually treats the underlying cause of the growth. They may later recommend the surgical removal of a growth that is large or does not respond to treatments. Some people may need to work with a speech-language pathologist.
If frequent throat clearing is causing concern or discomfort, a doctor can often help.
It is important to seek medical attention if frequent throat clearing accompanies:
- a feeling of something being stuck in the throat
- chronic coughing
- taking a new medication
The doctor will ask for a medical history and perform a physical exam to determine the symptom’s cause. Diagnosing the cause is the first step toward appropriate treatment.
Throat clearing usually only requires treatment if it is becoming bothersome or causing discomfort. The best way to reduce or prevent the symptom is to address any underlying causes.
Some treatment and prevention tips for frequent throat clearing include:
- drinking plenty of water to keep the throat moist, which may relieve or lessen the feeling that something has become lodged in the throat
- eating and chewing slowly if a person has difficulty swallowing
- using a humidifier at home or work to keep the air moist, which may help reduce throat irritation
- trying to clear the throat gently and infrequently to avoid hurting the vocal cords
Throat clearing is a natural response to irritation in the area or a feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat. It can also be a conscious or unconscious habit.
Frequent throat clearing can sometimes signal an underlying health issue. Some possible causes include nasal allergies, acid reflux, vocal cord growths, and tic disorders.
If this symptom is persistent or bothersome, seeing a doctor can help. Although the medical treatment options will depend on the underlying cause, drinking plenty of fluids and sucking on hard candies may provide some relief.