Please rip out my esophagus.
September 28, 2010 7:16 PM   Subscribe

What, if anything, is wrong with my throat and how, if at all, can I treat it?

Whenever I get a cold coming on, my throat starts to gets raw like I spent the past few hours screaming. Fair enough. But for the next day or two, my throat is just not playing by the common cold rules. Symptoms:

1. Saliva is extremely "enzyme-y" and has the consistency of egg whites. It is NOT phlegm from the throat or mucous from the nasal passages. If you've ever gotten gummy saliva during a really good cry, then this is what I'm talking about.

2. Difficulty swallowing. Not only can't I "clear" my throat when swallowing, any time I swallow, some air gets trapped and accumulates in my gut. Every 20 minutes or so I have to jostle around to shake loose a good few burps.

3. Extremely gag-sensitive. My stomach, aside from the slight bloating from the swallowed air, feels just fine. But my throat just feels like I'm on the cusp of gagging. All. The. Time.

At night I have to prop up pillows and try to sleep sitting up because of the burp/gag issues. This is seriously disruptive, since I got no more than 3 hours of sleep the night before and only 1.5 hours last night.

This always goes away after one or two days and turns into your normal common cold with sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, etc. But can anyone sympathize with what I'm going through? How do I treat it NOW?

Lozenges/gum don't help. They produce more saliva and make me need to swallow more. Drinking/sipping liquids: At best not helpful, at worst, an aggravating factor since I've got a touch of the GERD as well. Is there something to counteract salivary enzyme production? I haven't tried a topical throat spray (Chloraseptic, e.g.) yet; might this help?

Am I a special snowflake, or is this something that others go through? I just want to be able sleep tonight! HELP!
posted by holterbarbour to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have similar, though less extreme symptoms. Usually I can tell when a cold is coming just by the very beginning of tightness in my throat. If I take steps to treat it early, the cold is often less severe. Those steps would be: get extra rest, increase liquid intake, etc etc. I don't really know the best steps for treating a cold.

Not sure if this will irritate your GERD or not, but I've been making a tea out of lemon and ginger that is very helpful for the pre-cold sore/tight throat. It also seems to help rinse out the extra mucous (or thick saliva?) as the cold progresses. I have a bunch of lemon-rind halves in my freezer (which I save after making lemonade or whatever). I also have peeled, frozen ginger root. I will pop one lemon half into a mug, grate a bit of ginger over it, add hot water. It doesn't need to steep, just get it to a drinkable temperature and enjoy. My husband likes to add honey as well, but I prefer it straight.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:30 PM on September 28, 2010

Really strong ginger tea (made with ginger root) with honey helps me. My throat is often in extraordinary pain when I get sick. It's awful, I know.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:39 PM on September 28, 2010

Throat Coat tea is excellent for when your throat feels like you swallowed a bucket of razor blades. Worth a try.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:15 PM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: Most of your symptoms sound like what I get when my reflux is being bad. Basically I aspirate acid and it irritates my throat and makes the mucous membranes swell slightly, followed by all the symptoms you describe except the saliva one. Often when I get colds they also settle in my throat and irritate it for a couple of days before crawling up into my sinuses to really make me miserable, and this has only happened in the past few years when my reflux is less under control.

So I'd say that what's happening for you is your throat is being irritated by the infection and swelling up a bit. Some kind of topical throat spray may work if it has anti-inflammatory effect, you can also get anti-inflammatory mouth washes (my dentist recently recommended Difflam which did help). There are also nasal sprays which can get into the top part of your throat that a rinse or spray, although you need to talk to a pharmacist to ensure you're getting the appropriate one. Basically you want to get on top of that inflammation so you get some relief, and there are OTC things out there to help with that.

Note that GERD is a complication of reflux, just having reflux doesn't mean you have GERD (it's not a complication I'd describe as 'just a touch' either). But if you really do have GERD then you already have throat damage, and you should probably talk to your doctor about the whole thing because it will make you more susceptible to infections just like this. Either way be extra careful about taking your reflux medication when you're sick to reduce any extra irritation you're getting from that.
posted by shelleycat at 8:25 PM on September 28, 2010

Best answer: I just had a cold and it started exactly as you describe. The gas from swallowing air was killing me. So to answer one of your questions, yes others get this. No, I don't have a good cure or treatment other than taking a couple of days off work and staying in bed.
posted by sadtomato at 8:34 PM on September 28, 2010

Lemon honey water.

Boil some water, dump in a few small slices of lemon, had spoonful of honey. It is HEAVEN going down your throat. This really helps to soothe my throat (and I know professional opera singers who swear by this, too).
posted by zizzle at 8:52 PM on September 28, 2010

*add, not had
posted by zizzle at 8:52 PM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: Shelleycat, that's all good information. You're right that I probably don't have GERD per se, but just reflux issues. Usually they only spring up if I've just chased a big meal with a cold beverage. I'll see if Difflam (or something with its active ingredient) is available locally. I also have some antiseptic/anti-inflammatory mouthwash (my ENT gave it to me in April for a bout of tonsillitis), I'll see if that works.

I should add that I'm not really dealing with sore throat issues (at least not yet; that's typically later in the cold process for me)-- just some hoarseness/rawness and the problems I described above.

Sadtomato, I'm happy to hear I'm not alone, but I'm sorry you had to go through the same thing! You have my sympathies.
posted by holterbarbour at 9:24 PM on September 28, 2010

Response by poster: Ah! I just realized that the mouthwash stuff I have at home is a benzydamine HCL solution, just like the Difflam. Now I just have to wait until the end of work :(
posted by holterbarbour at 9:35 PM on September 28, 2010

Yeah my throat doesn't actually hurt either, usually, just that weird gagging, swallowing thing. It's still caused by inflammation, and is possibly irritating your stomach too as you're describing pretty common reflux symptoms (I don't know why colds set off my stomach but they totally do).

For the horrible saliva, lemon or something similarly astringent can be really helpful. It kind of cuts through the gunk and gives a clean taste and feel, even if just for a while. I don't find it helps my throat at all and it's not anti-inflammatory, but many people find it soothing as has been suggested by the other comments. If lemon upsets your stomach at all consider lime instead. I find it has similar benefits without the acidity, and avoiding reflux is a good idea right now. I can definitely see how adding ginger would help in a similar way, and there is growing scientific evidence for the anti-nausea properties of ginger too.

I hope you feel better!
posted by shelleycat at 9:56 PM on September 28, 2010

This happens to me if I'm sick with a cold/flu/allergies AND if I drink alcohol, too--so it makes a lot of sense that it's just a complication of GERD (I have been officially diagnosed with GERD, and also with a hiatal hernia). I also find that taking cold or allergy medicine (Benadryl's fine, but anything with pseudoephedrine or whatever's in Mucinex) makes it way, way worse. My comments aren't exactly helpful because I have no way of relieving it either except just propping up lots of pillows and doing my best to sleep, but I thought maybe it would be good to echo the thought that it may be reflux-related. Hang in there!
posted by so_gracefully at 11:03 PM on September 28, 2010

Lemon drinks are a good suggestion. I can also get some nice relief from those soluble aspirin pills. They seem to provide almost immediate relief to my throat. The brand is Aspro Clear in my country.
posted by Diag at 12:08 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: Your mouth actually produces two different kinds of saliva, the more serous (runny) stuff, as well as the thicker stuff that is actually classified as mucous. So I think when you feel like your saliva is getting all thick, it may be somewhat of an imbalance where you're getting more mucous -- not more "enzymes." You may also be getting a lot of post-nasal drip with your cold before it develops to the point of stuffiness or runny nose, which can lead to that gaggy, junk-in-my-throat, gotta-swallow feeling.

My colds tend to run a similar course to what you're describing, and in fact I'm going through one right now, so I can say with certainty that my symptoms match! I've had the best luck with doing things to help thin secretions -- drink a ton of water, avoid dairy products which can increase mucus production, use the neti pot before bed, and take Mucinex when things get really bad.
posted by vytae at 6:44 AM on September 29, 2010

I swear by Perrier and Orange Juice. When my throat gets really mucus-y I sometimes just down the Perrier straight. The carbonation in the Perrier cuts through the gunk like no other carbonated beverage can, and I really think the minerals help me heal from the cold faster. I mostly use the O.J. to help with the taste.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:30 PM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all! I don't think it was a matter of post-nasal drip here, just some minor throat inflammation that was causing all the trouble, perhaps aggravated by reflux.

As usual, the more troublesome symptoms were gone after the second day and now I just have a regular cold (*sniffle, cough*), allowing me to sleep MUCH better. I did try the benzydamine rinse last night before bed, I think that also helped a bit. Anyway, now I have a much better idea of what's actually going on and that I'm not (such) a freak in going through all this.

[And FWIW: Standard cold procedure for me is to use my neti pot, drink ginger tea (which here in Korea is available in jars off goo that is best described as marmalade using slices of ginger rather than orange peel; it's absolutely marvelous stuff), eat spicy food, sniff an Olba's inhaler, suck on a few Cold-Eeze (which may just be a placebo but are tasty anyway), and turn on the humidifier (season depending). I generally avoid OTC stuff unless I get a fever or more serious nose/throat issues.]
posted by holterbarbour at 5:30 PM on September 29, 2010

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