Throat clearing
February 23, 2011 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Why is he always clearing his throat? My boyfriend is constantly clearing his throat, multiple times a day and I'm really concerned. What's wrong with him? He won't see a doctor and just says he's phlegmy.
posted by grak88 to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My friend does this and it's a nervous tick.
posted by Fairchild at 8:06 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by Fairchild at 8:07 PM on February 23, 2011

Well, depending on where you live, it might be allergy season, which does tend to increase phlegm production in sufferers. If his only symptom is clearing his throat several times a day it is pretty highly unlikely that it's anything life-threatening or worth getting all worked up about.
posted by titus n. owl at 8:08 PM on February 23, 2011

N'thing that it's possibly just a tic. My little brother went through a period of this when he was younger (the throat clearing phase was much better than the guinea pig grunt phase).

Even if it's not, I don't think it's a reason to be really concerned, but perhaps you could suggest that he try an allergy pill or decongestant for a while to see if that clears things up for him. If it gets worse, obviously he should see a doctor.
posted by phunniemee at 8:14 PM on February 23, 2011

Reflux will do that, too. I have it bad. When I watch what and when I eat it goes away and with it the throat clearing.
posted by brownrd at 8:18 PM on February 23, 2011

i had a roommate that did this and he swore up and down it was just his physiology. i thought tic the second time i heard it, and had the pleasure of our landlord stopping by one day and meeting him for the first time and calling him out on it! "Why do you do that, did your momma not love you enough" (!!!) He did it for the 3 years i knew him, all the time.

If this is a new thing, however, please get him to at least see a doctor or walk-in clinic at least once.
posted by neustile at 8:18 PM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

What are the doctors who specialize in throats called? Anyway, one of those told me that it can be a vicious cycle: Throat clearing tends to irritate the throat, which stimulates production of mucus to protect the membranes, which leads to more throat clearing, which leads to more mucus. It's not a great habit to get into, and if he's "really phlegmy" he'd be better off blowing his nose more often or treating the allergy/cold/sinus/whatever so there's less post-nasal drip going on.

But given the number of people who do it six times an hour with no apparent ill effects except the part where everyone within a 25-foot radius wants to kill them, it's probably not that big a deal as a general thing.

(Personally, if it were a constant thing, he'd have to stop or I'd have to DTMFA ... that's how irritating I find it!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2011

A friend I've known since we were both in kindergarten has a very distinctive throat-clearing tic.

During allergy season, which is nearly all year for me, I find myself clearing my throat a lot.

I don't think it's a sign of anything really bad, but if it annoys you, which it sounds like it does, you might consider asking him to try a decongestant. Get the real pseudoephedrine Sudafed, the phenylephrine stuff doesn't work at all.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2011

Does he eat a lot of dairy? I find that after I eat a very cheesy pizza or mac and cheese that I have to cough/clear my throat.
posted by lovelygirl at 8:26 PM on February 23, 2011

Could be dust or environmental stuff. I have to do this a lot at my place, but at my family's it's much less common.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:28 PM on February 23, 2011

I have constant allergies, and terrible post-nasal drip. I have to clear my throat a lot too. It's probably just allergies. Try an OTC antihistamine like Claritin for a few days, and see if that makes any difference.
posted by Joh at 8:33 PM on February 23, 2011

He's just phlegmy. Have him take a Mucinex, and count your blessings that you don't have allergies yourself :-)
posted by schmod at 8:48 PM on February 23, 2011

Could be Post Nasal Drip. That's my reason.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:24 PM on February 23, 2011

For me, it's post-nasal drip from allergies first. Then it's being conscious of how annoying it must be, at which point I can't stop thinking about the gunk in my throat.
posted by katillathehun at 10:19 PM on February 23, 2011

For me, it's after I eat. I don't have any allergies or PND, and I don't have reflux.
posted by maxwelton at 10:38 PM on February 23, 2011

For me, it's after I eat. I don't have any allergies or PND, and I don't have reflux.

That . . . actually could very well be reflux. That (and/or coughing) is the only major sign I have of reflux, besides some wear on my back molars.

But my allergies contribute to this, too. My mother always thought it was a tic and chastised me for making "annoying sounds," but if I take sudafed and reflux meds it's much, much better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:30 PM on February 23, 2011

Oh! Also! Tonsil stones might be a culprit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 PM on February 23, 2011

Does he smoke? Are you sure?

(formerly 'just phlegmy')
posted by fonetik at 1:39 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe, like he says, he's just phlegmy. What is it that you're looking for here?
posted by Solomon at 2:51 AM on February 24, 2011

Constant sinus drainage.
I suffer from this. It's especially worse while/immediately after I eat. It annoys the hell out of me. I can only imagine how much it annoys the people around me.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:57 AM on February 24, 2011

It could be caused by lots of things - LPR, acid reflux, GERD, consumption of dairy, an undiagnosed sinus infection, allergies, nervous tic, tonsil stones, cancer...

He doesn't want to see a doctor because he says it's just phlegm... What he may not realize (or maybe ignoring) is that the phlegm can be a sign of a more serious problem.

Kind Fellow dating AskMe Girl, if you're reading this, please please please go see an ENT. If your difficulties are caused by something like LPR or GERD, the longer it goes on without treatment, the bigger the risk for esophageal cancer. Which does actually happen to people. MeMail for more details.
posted by muirne81 at 6:10 AM on February 24, 2011

BTW - as someone who is close to an LPR sufferer, cutting caffeine, alcohol, and dairy out of the diet is *hugely* beneficial. You don't have to do this forever - just a short break, and then a general reduction allows the tissue to begin healing. You may give this a try and see if he gets any relief.
posted by muirne81 at 6:11 AM on February 24, 2011

I agree that he's just phlegmy. It happens to me too. When I get over a cold, even though I've stopped dripping/sneezing, I have phlegm that tends to linger for *weeks* and I'm constantly clearing my throat. I've found that drinking hot liquids can sometimes temporarily clear it.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 6:36 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Probably the result of some other minor issue. But...

I go through phases of this as well. Oddly, I dated a PT for a time who works with people with neuromuscular impairment. One day she popped up with "do you ever get strange muscle weakness? Blurred vision? Weird numbness?". None of the above, says I. "That's good. Pay attention if you do. That constant throat clearing sound like my multiple sclerosis patients.". Apparently, swallowing issues are a common symptom.

So...echoing the sentiments above: likely something minor, but find the root cause.
posted by kjs3 at 7:08 AM on February 24, 2011

One of my in-laws is constantly doing this. I think it's partly that she's just a big ball of phlegm but I think in a sort of strange way her logic goes something like this:

If I clear my throat now, I won't get all phlegmy in a minute. *20 second pause*
If I clear my throat now, I won't get all phlegmy in a minute. *20 second pause*
If I clear my throat now, I won't get all phlegmy in a minute...

The end result is that it sounds like someone is trying to start a lawn mower that was left outside for the winter.
posted by foodgeek at 7:37 AM on February 24, 2011

Several times a day? Not a big deal. Several times an hour would be a different thing altogether.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW I dated a guy whose anxiety manifested in a regular-to-the-minute throat-clearing tic. At his worst, this would go on for hours.
posted by jessicapierce at 8:11 AM on February 24, 2011

I have asthma caused by inflammation in my lungs. Cold air makes me cough. Menthol (eucalyptus) cough drops fix it right up.
posted by theora55 at 11:41 AM on February 24, 2011

My husband did this every 15 minutes when he still drank (a lot of) alcohol. He said his throat always felt wet or gummy.

Now that he doesn't drink, he hardly ever does it.
posted by vickyverky at 1:58 PM on February 24, 2011

Wow, I didn't think this was that prevalent. No, he doesn't smoke - he hates it when I do. Allergies? Maybe. Annoying? Always. I'll make him read this and see if it will prompt him to see a doctor. Thanks.
posted by grak88 at 6:42 PM on February 24, 2011

I do this, and have for about six years. Saw several doctors, had some pretty intense tests, ruled out reflux, and can't be related to smoking, alcohol, or caffeine in my case. The closest I got to an answer was when an ENT noted that I have a larger-than-normal uvula. I'm hoping to lose 10 more pounds, then another 10 pounds, and see whether that helps; it seems like it started sometime around when I went from 191 to 211. If that doesn't work, I might go to a hypnotist.
posted by troywestfield at 6:20 AM on February 25, 2011

I just had my housemate/landlady get on my case about my throat clearing and coughing. It's a recurring tic for me, plus I'm almost over a cold. Sometimes I don't know it's bothering her.
posted by tamagogirl at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2011

I experienced this problem for a few years. It was very frustrating, and while there may have been a psychological element present as well, the physical reality was dominant. I had to clear every minute because I could not get the mucus to go away! Very, very irritating.

(FYI--I have never had a smoking habit, and didn't seem to have much to do with what might have been coming out of my nose.)

I was also depressed at the time and very cloudy mentally. One day at the health food store I bought some mushroom-powder supplements that were supposed to help with mental acuity. I took them for a month until the bottle was done. My mind wasn't any clearer, but I noticed to my surprise that the flim was gone! It's never come back. (I only took it for that one month.)

I now believe that it was a chronic, mild sinus infection killed off by the antibacterial action of the mushroom powder. (The one I took was New Chapter Mental Clarity, now called Mind Force. I am not in any way affiliated with the product, but I include it here for thoroughness). I hope that if your friend has a similar problem he will find something to get him free of such an annoying problem--for his own sake! I can relate. I tried to drink tons of water etc etc and nothing ever worked until I got lucky like this.

Taking cayenne pepper and/or fresh lemon juice every day--every morning or perhaps before every meal--for a few weeks might be all that is needed to eliminate the problem. (you can make a drink like the Master Cleanser/Lemonade Diet drink with real maple syrup or honey or molasses). The red pepper is known for clearing out mucus and killing infections. Currently I make a paste with honey, olive oil, and alot of cayenne pepper. Goes down easy. I've seen similar pastes made from honey and cinnamon, but I can't speak for that or other herbs, many of which are cleansing/antimicrobial and might be a good choice, too (peppermint, cloves...). If his gut health is not so great, backed up, or otherwise compromising his immune system, I think the things I mentioned would be helpful in that, too; in the meantime, yogurt with live cultures could be added to his diet so he can replace unfriendly bacteria with friendly bacteria.

Alot of milk products and meats, greasy and heavy meals are probably not going to help. Some fruits and veggies, especially greens I think, probably would.
posted by Thinkmontgolfier at 4:54 PM on April 5, 2011

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