Is 'throat malfunction' a thing?
April 20, 2011 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Can throat muscles weaken or stop working?

This is difficult to describe, but over the past week or so I've found myself having difficulty swallowing food (no problem with liquids). There's a feeling of some sort of obstruction, although I can breathe perfectly freely and I can swallow food - and have eaten enough that if there was some bit or chunk of food stuck in there it would have been carried away by now.

It occurred to me that this feeling might be caused by a problem with the throat itself - I know very little about the physiology in this area, what can and can't go wrong, and if that sounds impossible I'd definitely appreciate someone letting me know.

Had a passing fancy that it might be related to childhood asthma, but I haven't been afflicted with that for many years, and I assume that it would make it difficult to breathe as well....

I'm also considering that this might be purely psychosomatic - I'm presently under a certain amount of stress, and there have been a couple of cases in the past where being stressed gave me feelings of, for example, chest constriction or the inability to breathe which, after getting checked out by doctors, turned out to have no physical cause.

I've been poking around trying to find anything that matches my 'condition' online, but have come up empty. Anyone encountered anything like this? Know enough about the throat area to be able to suggest possible causes?
posted by AdamCSnider to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had difficulty swallowing as a side effect of a pretty rarely used prescription drug. Any new prescriptions?
posted by jocelmeow at 1:48 PM on April 20, 2011

When I was younger and had severe anxiety and panic attacks, my throat would feel like it was closed up. Like I was breathing through a small hole.
My aunt and I were discussing this last week because the same happens to her.

To rule out a medical issue, I would see your doctor though.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:50 PM on April 20, 2011

I should add I had difficulty swallowing food as well and could breathe (obviously) but it seemed difficult.
This lasted a few days at a time. Saw my dads doctor and he checked it out and said it was anxiety related.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:53 PM on April 20, 2011

This happens to my dad. He has trouble swallowing but not trouble breathing. Turns out it was anxiety related, a small xanax Rx cleared it up.
posted by capnsue at 1:54 PM on April 20, 2011

Response by poster: No new meds - no meds at all, in fact.

KogeLiz, that sounds like a good idea - I'm hoping to get in to a clinic sometime next week. Did your father's doctor prescribe anything, or offer any suggestions for how to deal with it without medication?
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2011

Globus pharyngis sounds closest to what you describe. If it is painful to swallow, that would be classed as odynophagia.
posted by adipocere at 2:06 PM on April 20, 2011

Trouble swallowing is called "dysphagia", and googling that will lead you to a number of pages.

But you need to see a doctor. It can be a symptom of many things.
posted by orthogonality at 2:20 PM on April 20, 2011

There are a variety of problems that can cause swallowing dysfunction of various types. Typically a barium swallow or endoscopy can diagnose them without too much hassle, so a visit to a gastroenterologist (which may require a referral from your primary care MD) is reasonable.
posted by TedW at 2:23 PM on April 20, 2011

Technically, weakening of the throat muscles can be a symptom of some pretty awful neurological stuff--ALS, for example. But I had a lot of trouble swallowing and a feeling of sticking for a while when I was under stress. Your primary can probably do some basic questions and muscle tone checks and end up with a pretty good idea of whether it's stress or not. (I mean, mine did...) If you're actually being able to swallow food, and if it's fairly rapid onset, I would bet on stress. IANAD, of course.
posted by Frowner at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another, similar term describing difficulty swallowing due to an esophageal muscle issue is achalasia. There are a number of different things which could cause difficulty swallowing (including emotional stress), so talk to your doctor.
posted by ladypants at 2:26 PM on April 20, 2011

Two other conditions that can cause sensations like this are acid reflux (you don't always get the typical "heartburn" sensation) and/or esophageal dysmotility. There are various treatments available--no point worrying about them til you get a diagnosis.
posted by Corvid at 2:31 PM on April 20, 2011

OP: to answer your question:

For my throat issue and other thing related to anxiety and panic, I was prescribed a low dose of Xanax which helped. After a couple of weeks I didn't need it but carried it with me just in case.
Some doctors don't like prescribing it because of possible addiction.
Currently im on valium and it lasts longer than xanax but takes longer to start working.

Throughout my adult years and until last month, an antidepressant helped with the anxiety and a benzo wasn't needed.

Other non-medication things that helped have been mostly ineffective for me but maybe not for you.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy helped recognize thinking distortions and how to change my worrying.
Breathing, meditation, herbal supplements... did not help. But have helped many.

But yeah, see if you can get an appointment asap to make sure its not something other than anxiety.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:01 PM on April 20, 2011

Just chiming in that it can definitely come with anxiety. I was going though a whole buch of neurological issues, and noticed this as a new symptom. My neuro assured me it was just the anxiety, and sure enough as the other issues were dealt with I was once again able to swallow freely.
posted by cgg at 4:00 PM on April 20, 2011

I saw this on House once - it can be serious. Doctor up!
posted by J. Wilson at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2011

Agreed with frowner, this is most likely nothing, weak throat muscles actually run in my family so I choke on things pretty constantly but this can be the first sign of a digenerative muscle or nerve disorder. It's not something to run to the emergency clinic about but definitely talk to a doctor.
posted by boobjob at 6:48 PM on April 20, 2011

Response by poster: Righto then. I'll be going to a doctor on Friday. Thanks to all!
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:10 PM on April 20, 2011

Tonsil stones do produce similar symptoms.
posted by ringu0 at 7:01 AM on April 21, 2011

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