Why am I always clearing my throat
June 27, 2009 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Why am I constantly clearing my throat? Is there anything I can do about it?

I'm 31, healthy, not a smoker. But I am constantly clearing my throat to speak. Often when I speak my voice comes out husky or raspy or sounding weird because my throat isn't clear. Even though I'm constantly clearing it. It makes me so self conscious!

It's like there is always some kind of rubbish in my throat. Though it doesn't feel like enough to hack out - it's not like when you have a cold and there's so much plegm you want to hack it out. It feels like almost too small an amount to hack out.

Do others experience this, does anyone have any ideas about how to make it stop??

-I drink plenty of water.

-I notice my dad does this too. He is also a non-smoker. I wonder if it's genetic...

-Obviously the thing to do is see an ENT specialist but I thought I'd throw it out there in case anyone else has found a simple solution.

-I don't have any allergies (that I'm aware of)

posted by beccyjoe to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
From time to time I'll find myself clearing my throat so much that it gets irritated, which makes me want to clear it again, and it turns into a sort of vicious cycle. When that happens to me, the best solution is to just make myself stop doing it for a little while and interrupt the cycle. Keeping hydrated seems to prevent it — I think the initial irritation often comes from a dry throat — but once I start doing it, even if I drink a lot of water, I still need to exercise a bit of willpower and leave it alone for a while before the urge to clear my throat subsides.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:32 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had a similar problem and my doctor told me to cut down on milk and pure fruit juices. This seemed to work.
posted by errspy at 6:41 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My doctor suggested drinking warm liquids, to clear breathing passages.

Exercise will warm the body, increase circulation, and clear breathing passages.

Wearing a scarf to keep your neck area warm will also help.
posted by effluvia at 7:01 AM on June 27, 2009

The more dairy products I consume, the more often I'm clearinng my throat. Do you take in a lot of milk/yogurt/ice cream/whatever?
posted by Neofelis at 7:08 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh! This was me for 3-4 months this winter. I don't remember what actually made it go away, but MAN was it annoying.

Everyone recommended gargling with salt/baking soda, but I didn't remember to do it often enough to make a difference. Maybe try that and stick to it, or try the Neti pot.

One thing that helped was being aware of it and forcing myself not to do it. It was torture when I wanted to clear it and wasn't letting myself, but overall it made me want to do it less.

I think what ultimately made it go away was that the weather warmed up from winter to above-45F temperatures. So if it's still happening to you in the summer, maybe try keeping your throat warm and not drinking cold things.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 7:13 AM on June 27, 2009

Thanks for the responses kind people.

@nebulawindphone - The reason I do it often is because I don't want my voice to sound weird or raspy when I speak, so I clear my throat to speak. But I definitely do it when I'm not speaking as well. I will try and do it less when I'm not speaking...

@errspy @Neofelis - I don't drink milk (only soy in tea) and I never drink juice. I don't eat yogurt or ice cream but cheese is a big weakness. I should try cutting it out for a while and see what happens.

@KateHasQuestions - This seems to bug me year-round, right now it's summer and worse than ever...
posted by beccyjoe at 7:24 AM on June 27, 2009

It's possible that you have some minor post-nasal drip. Your doctor can give you a nasal spray like Flonase or Nasacort that should clear that up.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:29 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I get this when I am either over-eating or under-exercising or both.
posted by marsha56 at 7:30 AM on June 27, 2009

how much coffee do you drink?

i used to be a total coffee addict (4-6 cups a day), and i was constantly speaking/singing with a scratchy voice.

when i cut down on the coffee, the problems began to go away.
posted by coppermoss at 7:47 AM on June 27, 2009

I've had this for years. My wife has it now, too. Our only conclusion has been we have some post-nasal drip going on, especially at night. I tried irrigating with saline solution, which does seem to help. However, if you overdo it on the saline, your sinus cavities will get painfully dry. At least mine did.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:53 AM on June 27, 2009

I have this as well. It drives my girlfriend crazy.

In addition to the advice above concerning dairy and juice products, I notice it when I eat gummi bears or other soft candies as well as some raw vegetables like carrots or celery.

There are also physiological causes for this. Do you have really bad breath? This may point to some sort of abnormality about how your eating tube and breathing tube are connected or you have a slight breach between them. IANAD, so I am not sure about the proper terminology here. As I understood from my ENT specialist, it can be easily ruled out on physical examination.

I have also been told by a few doctors that this can also be mental. I notice that I do this when I am especially nervous, irritated or stressed.

This can severely damage your vocal chords and I notice my voice has changed a bit since the problem has gotten real bad.
posted by chillmost at 7:57 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd go to your family physician first and see if you can work on a solution (not the ENT, doesn't sound like you need a specialist just yet) - the differential is wide ranging: mild asthma, stress/anxiety, and acid reflux disease (yes, GERD is a common cause of cough).
posted by archofatlas at 8:13 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've heard that some people with Tourette's do this. And no, you don't have to scream obscenities to have Tourette's.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:18 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

My mom had this problem of constantly needing to clear her throat, and I believe it was diagnosed as being the result of a deviated septum. Another symptom of the deviated septum was yearly sinus infections, so she had surgery to fix it. The recovery from the surgery was hellish.
posted by jayder at 8:21 AM on June 27, 2009

Do you frequently "miss" a swallow? In other words, does a bit of saliva or coffee or juice go down the wrong way? If that is the case, the reason you are clearing your throat is to cough up that persistent little bit that's heading for your lungs instead of your stomach. See dysphagia. This is often caused by acid reflux, in which case antacids are usually prescribed. They don't cure the reflux, but the reflux becomes less acid, so doesn't inflame your epiglottis, which then works normally.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:40 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get this a lot too, it is particularly worse in the mornings. Mine is caused by post nasal drip. I have started using a neti pot 2x a day to clear out and rinse my sinuses. It helps a LOT.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:46 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding acid reflux, although not GERD - there's another type called Laryngopharyngeal Reflux, or LPR. You can have that without having any of the "typical" symptoms of reflux. I'm not a singer, but I love to sing, and had this problem for years before finally being diagnosed. See if this sounds familiar. Here is the symptom list from that site, although I personally only have a handful of them:

Symptoms of Laryngopharyngeal Reflux are:

* Continual throat clearing
* Chronic throat irritation
* Chronic cough
* Hoarseness
* Excessive phlegm the throat
* Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
* Constant sensation of something in the throat
* Swallowed food comes back up
* Post nasal drainage
* Weak voice
* Cracking voice
* Blockage of the breathing passage
* Spasm of the larynx (voice box)
* Wheezing
* Heartburn

Prilosec seemed to work pretty well for me; even though it's OTC, though, get confirmation from a doc before taking it. :-)
posted by CrazyGabby at 9:14 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding post-nasal drip. I have had the same problem for the past couple weeks -- I've been fighting the tail end of a summer cold, plus my sinuses go crazy when the weather shifts a lot -- and I'm living in the Northeast, where we've had something like 30 straight days of rain so far and wildly fluctuating temperatures, and the office I work for has been moving so I've probabaly breathed in a lot of dust. And so my sinuses have been going berserk, and at night the post-nasal drip drains down into my throat and I end up with a lot of schmutz in my throat and I cough a lot.

Using a Neti pot has helped a bit, and a vaporizer in my room at night helps too. I was surprised at this last one, because I thought since it was so humid I wouldn't need it; but someting about the difference between general humidity and actual steam seems to make the difference.

You may not even feel like your nose is stuffy or congested -- I don't right now, but there's still schmutz in there, I can tell. All I can assume is that it's hiding way up in my sinuses so I can still breathe, but it's waiting to drain down later. So I've been treating the congestion and it's been helping.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 AM on June 27, 2009

thanks everyone.

i dont drink coffee and i dont cough or have a sore throat or reflux or any of those other symptoms. i breathe and swallow fine. i never eat candy and i dont think i have tourettes.

my nose often runs a lot though. this could be connected. I guess I need to ask a doc because it seems like people have this symptom for different reasons!

thanks all for the advice.
posted by beccyjoe at 10:13 AM on June 27, 2009

Another reason could be that it is thyroid related. If you go to the doc, be sure he/she checks it as well.
posted by ourroute at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2009

Do you snore? My dad has always had a seemingly excessive throat clearing problem and has snored for as long as I can remember. I never had the throat clearing issue growing up, but started snoring in late college and gradually thereafter started having the throat clearing issue. Just a correlation as far as I know, but I've since read studies that say chronic snoring over a long time can damage the muscles and tissues of the throat. And I mis-swallow a lot. Often part of what I drink wants to go down the wrong pipe, but even more often I'll just be sitting there and it feels like spit wants to get in there and I have to clear. I wonder if the snoring may have eroded the seal or reshaped the area in the way I've read and now a little bit of what used to get blocked leaks down into throat clearing zone. I've never heard of that particular connection but am theorizing. I was interested to read above about how acid reflux can cause that too, because I've got that too.
posted by Askr at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2009

I had this, went to the doctor for it, and was diagnosed with seasonal allergies.


- Claritin


- Gargle with a solution of 8 ounces warm water, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp baking soda to clear out the phlegm in the meantime.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 12:36 PM on June 27, 2009

Throat clearing is an extremely common nervous tic. Watch yourself when you are sitting still and not speaking at all. Do you still have the urge to clear your throat? The fact that your dad does it might support this view. Be sure to rule out Tourette Syndrome.
posted by Crotalus at 1:00 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it could be a tic.

My husband does this, and it drives me batty. It also confuses the hell out of other people, since it sounds as if he's clearing his throat to make an announcement, so they all stop what they're doing.

He does it a lot more when he's had a couple of drinks. He also does it when he's sitting on the couch and there's just me and the cat and he isn't about to say anything. He doesn't get a runny nose very often, nor does he have frequent colds or respiratory infections.

See if you can catch yourself doing it. Are you doing it unconsciously (i.e. not just before you begin to speak)? Is it something you use to focus your own attention? What would happen if you did start speaking and your voice came out all husky? It might be mildly comical for a minute, but not a disaster, right? (I'm assuming you aren't a news anchor or public speaker.)
posted by vickyverky at 1:58 PM on June 27, 2009

I can't believe no one's suggested this yet. Do you have your tonsils? Tonsil stones are sometimes a cause of frequent throat clearing. Growing up, my mother always yelled at me for clearing my throat so much, because she thought it was just an annoying, nervous tick. Although I do have allergies and ensuing post nasal drip, I discovered--through metafilter, actually--that my tonsils are cryptic and often full of stones. These days, I can tell when I have stones because I'll start clearing my throat more often. I apply hydrogen peroxide with a q-tip and squeeze them out and I'll be better for days before the process starts again. It's icky, but it's a hell of a lot better than tonsil surgery, which is painful, with a long recovery process (and the only way to permanently get rid of them).

vickyverky, you should give your hubby heads up about tonsil stones. Mine get much worse when I've been drinking. If there's something physiological causing this, like tonsil stones, or, say, GERD, it's pretty physically unpleasant feeling and should be addressed at the source, instead of just trying to buck up and ignore it. Which might not even be possible.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:20 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

my nose often runs a lot though.

I bet your throat-clearing is due to post-nasal drip. Could be seasonal pollen allergies. Try an over-the-counter allergy remedy and see if the runny nose and throat-clearing go away. If not, then yeah, the family doctor.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:32 PM on June 27, 2009

I had Mysterious Throat Clearing Syndrome (I used to refer to it as "my hairballs") that, for the most part, cleared up when I quit drinking beer. I didn't quit drinking mind you, just not beer. I love beer and was almost horrified at the difference it made.

Claritin and using a neti pot take care of the remainder.
posted by smartyboots at 12:17 AM on June 28, 2009

thanks everyone for so many helpful suggestions. i have a long list of things to try now!
posted by beccyjoe at 1:28 AM on June 28, 2009

« Older Well, they ARE seeds...   |   Cakes as art, when did it start? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.