Read below about throat clearing, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your throat clearing from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having throat clearing

Take Quiz

Throat Clearing Symptoms

Clearing the throat is a functional response to irritating substances. However, excessive throat clearing can be irritating. Several structures from the respiratory and digestive system may be involved in underlying causes of throat clearing, including the esophagus, larynx, and vocal cords. In many cases treatment for an underlying medical condition will be required to relieve excessive throat clearing.

Symptoms that can be associated with throat clearing include:

Throat Clearing Causes Overview

Gastrointestinal problems:

  • Reflux: When contents of the stomach re-enter the esophagus after meals, food particles and stomach acid can end up in the larynx and vocal cords. This results in irritation and damage over time, and frequent throat clearing is common along with sore throat and hoarseness [1, 2].
  • Swallowing disorders: Difficulty swallowing food completely due to structural or neurological abnormalities of the esophagus can cause regurgitation of food particles. The resulting irritation of the throat leads to excessive throat clearing. Bad breath and coughing may also occur.

Respiratory problems:

  • Postnasal drip: Nasal drainage into the back of the throat causes irritation that commonly results in chronic cough and throat clearing [3]. This condition can occur due to environmental allergies or a respiratory infection [4, 5].
  • Larynx and vocal cord conditions: Structural abnormalities of the vocal cords, such as polyps or nodules, can cause throat clearing along with voice changes and noisy breathing. Chronic inflammation of the larynx, which may be due to allergens in the environment and/or postnasal drip, can also cause throat clearing symptoms.
  • Lung conditions: Medical conditions involving the lungs, including chronic bronchitis and asthma, can be associated with throat clearing. Other symptoms such as difficulty breathing and coughing will be present [7].

Other throat clearing causes:

  • Tic disorders: Certain neurological disorders including Tourette syndrome cause involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Examples of tics include throat clearing, shrugging, and sniffing [8].
  • Medications: Inhaled steroids and certain blood pressure medications can cause throat clearing as a side effect [9, 10].
  • Habit: Some people develop habitual throat clearing due to the perception of an irritating sensation, even without any underlying medical condition causing throat irritation [7].

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Throat Clearing

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced throat clearing. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)

    Acid reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. The most common symptoms are heartburn and regurgitation.

    With proper treatment, symptoms may be relieved within days & at most several weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, sore throat, pain below the ribs, cough with dry or watery sputum, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Bronchiectasis

    Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways. Mucus builds up in these airways and can get infected, causing a pneumonia.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.New - Onset Seasonal Allergies

    Allergic rhinitis, is an overreaction by the immune system to allergens in the air. While pollen often causes allergies, other culprits include dust, animal dander, and mold.

    Allergies are often seasonal.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, congestion, cough with dry or watery sputum, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, fatigue
    Symptoms that never occur with new-onset seasonal allergies:
    fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Adult - Onset Asthma

    Asthma in adults is an under-diagnosed reason for a chronic cough. In general, asthma is caused by hyperactive inflammation of the lung's airways. This results in episodic dyspnea, coughing and wheezing which is triggered by for example exercise, cold air, pollen or dust.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath at rest, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Throat Clearing Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having throat clearing.

    Take Quiz
  5. 5.Post - Infectious Cough

    Post-infectious upper airway cough is a condition that can develop as a direct result of a previous infection of the airways. In adults, this is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) cough.

    2 weeks with treatment.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, congestion, clear runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  6. 6.Viral Throat Infection

    Viral pharyngitis is an inflammation of the pharynx, the part of the throat between the nasal cavity and mouth, which causes throat pain.

    Symptoms generally resolve within 3-4 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice
    Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection:
    sore throat
    Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Foreign Body Aspiration

    Foreign body aspiration can be a life-threatening emergency. An aspirated solid or semisolid object may lodge in the larynx or trachea. If the object is large enough to cause nearly complete obstruction of the airway, asphyxia may rapidly cause death.

    Resolves as soon as treatment is provided

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, fever, shortness of breath, cough with dry or watery sputum, wheezing
    Symptoms that always occur with foreign body aspiration:
    swallowing of something potentially harmful
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Throat Clearing Treatments and Relief

The majority of causes of throat clearing do not require urgent evaluation. However, excessive throat clearing can be associated with respiratory conditions that have dangerous exacerbations. Seek emergency treatment if you are having severe difficulty breathing.

Make an appointment with your medical provider if:

  • You have a sensation of something stuck in your throat or chest [7].
  • You have a chronic cough or difficulty breathing when you exert yourself.
  • You have previously been diagnosed with a chronic respiratory or gastrointestinal condition and now are having worsening symptoms [1, 2, 3].
  • Your throat clearing is causing personal discomfort and/or problems in social settings.
  • Your throat clearing started after you began a new medication [9, 10].
  • You have involuntary movements and vocalizations in addition to throat clearing [8].

Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your throat clearing symptoms:

  • Inhalers and possibly also oral steroids to treat asthma or chronic bronchitis [9, 10].
  • Medication to prevent tics such as throat clearing if they are impairing daily functioning [11].
  • Stopping a medication that may be causing throat clearing [9, 10].
  • Medication to decrease stomach acid in order to reduce the negative effects of reflux [1, 2].
  • Referral for surgical management of gastrointestinal disorders if more conservative treatments are not effective [1, 12, 13, 14].
  • Referral to a "vocal hygiene" program to help eliminate habitual throat clearing [14].

Some home treatments may help with throat clearing.

  • To alleviate reflux symptoms, avoid eating meals late at night and cut back on spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol.
  • Cutting back on smoking or, ideally, quitting altogether will help with respiratory causes of throat clearing.
  • Several over the counter medications including antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays can help with postnasal drip [1, 5, 6].
  • Try taking a sip of water when you experience the urge to clear your throat.
  • If you experience difficulty swallowing, try eating slowly, taking smaller bites, and chewing food thoroughly [1, 6, 14].

FAQs About Throat Clearing

Here are some frequently asked questions about throat clearing.

Can throat clearing be caused by allergies?

Yes, allergies can cause the need for throat clearing. Allergens inhaled from the environment, such as dust, can cause irritation of the larynx that leads to throat clearing. In addition, environmental allergies can cause post-nasal drainage associated with chronic nasal discharge and congestion [5, 7, 9]. The presence of drainage in the throat triggers coughing and throat clearing.

Could a new medication be causing my throat clearing?

Certain medications can cause throat clearing as a side effect. A class of blood pressure and heart medications called ACE (angiotension converting enzyme) inhibitors can cause coughing and throat clearing due to a buildup of substances that irritate the airways. Inhaled steroids can also cause throat clearing; in this case, the medication causes direct irritation to the larynx.

How can I get rid of the urge to clear my throat?

If throat clearing is a side effect of a medication, stopping the medication will lead to eventual improvement. Treatment for allergies or an underlying medical condition contributing to throat clearing will also help. Sometimes throat clearing becomes a habit, in which case taking a sip of water as a replacement can help get rid of the urge. For many causes of throat clearing, avoiding environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke will lead to improvement.

Can throat clearing be caused by GERD?

Yes, excessive throat clearing can be a symptom of GERD [1]. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition where acid and food particles from the stomach re-enter the esophagus [6]. Although GERD is usually associated with heartburn, for some people, other symptoms due to irritation of the larynx are more prominent. Laryngeal symptoms include throat clearing, hoarseness, and coughing.

Can respiratory problems contribute to throat clearing?

Yes, problems with various parts of the respiratory tract can cause a need for excessive throat clearing. Asthma and chronic bronchitis can both cause throat clearing along with the more common symptoms of cough and difficulty breathing [9, 10]. In addition, the vocal cords and larynx can be irritated by voice overuse or reflux from the stomach, leading to throat clearing as well as hoarseness. The uppermost part of the respiratory tract can be affected by post-nasal drip, usually due to allergies or a respiratory infection [5, 14]. In this case, irritation of the throat triggers throat clearing.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Throat Clearing

  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Do you burp up food or liquids after a meal?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our throat clearing symptom checker to find out more.

Take Quiz

Throat Clearing Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced throat clearing have also experienced:

    • 11% Mucous Dripping in the Back of the Throat
    • 8% Cough
    • 6% Sore Throat
  • People who have experienced throat clearing were most often matched with:

    • 50% Bronchiectasis
    • 37% Acid Reflux Disease (Gerd)
    • 12% New - Onset Seasonal Allergies
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having throat clearing

Take Quiz

References

  1. GERD and LPR. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. ENThealth.org. Updated August 2018. ENThealth.org Link.
  2. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link.
  3. Lynch KL. Overview of Esophageal and Swallowing Disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version. Updated April 2018. Merck Manual Professional Version Link.
  4. Shmerling RH. Treatments for Post-Nasal Drip. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published April 2018. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  5. Post-Nasal Drip. healthdirect. Published March 2018. healthdirect Link.
  6. Hoarseness. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Updated March 6, 2017. NIDCD Link.
  7. Chronic Cough & Throat Clearing. Ear Nose & Throat Center. ENT Center Link.
  8. Tourette Syndrome. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 23, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  9. That Nagging Cough. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published September 2010. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  10. Can the Medications I Take Harm My Voice. Erie, Ear Nose & Throat Specialists of Northwestern Pennslyvania. Erie ENT Specialists Link.
  11. Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Published January 2012. NINDS Link.
  12. Jones R, Stevens R, Dalrymple J, Driscoll R, Sleet S, Smith JB. Management of Common Gastrointestinal Disorders: Quality Criteria Based on Patients' Views and Practice Guidelines. British Journal of General Practice. 2009;59(563):e199-e208. NCBI Link.
  13. The Voice of the Patient. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published January 2016. FDA Link.
  14. Taking Care of Your Voice. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Updated March 6, 2017. NIDCD Link.