Skip to main content

Throat Clearing? Could be a Sign of Something Serious

Each of us has needed to clear our throat at some time or the other—whether we are making a presentation or feeling a tickle in the back of our throat. While not often serious, repetitive throat clearing could indicate other health problems. 

Breanne L. Schiffer, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck) at University of Utah Health, says that by the time patients visit her office, they often have had an ongoing problem with throat clearing. 

“It has somehow become disruptive—whether it’s disruptive to the people around them or they get comments about it, or maybe they feel embarrassed by how frequently they are clearing their throat,” Schiffer says.

Often, a sensation in the back of the throat causes individuals to clear their throat. Some patients that Schiffer sees have had trauma to their throat caused by a surgical or sedation procedure where they were intubated or had a breathing tube in place. For others, it may have been a respiratory infection that started the throat clearing. Some may have mucus or phlegm they need to get rid of. 

Causes of Throat Clearing

The most common causes for throat clearing include:

  • Post-nasal drip
  • Reflux
  • Medications

These issues can usually be managed by a primary care provider. 

Some other potential reasons for throat clearing include:

When to Seek Help

Schiffer advises those with persistent throat pain or irritation, trouble swallowing, increasing difficulty swallowing, or coughing up blood to see their health care provider. 

“Anything that is bothersome or disruptive to your daily life—even if it ends up not being life threatening—it’s always reasonable to discuss with a medical professional,” Schiffer says.

Finding the underlying cause of throat clearing is the first step to treatment. According to Schiffer, the doctor will likely ask patients questions such as: 

  • When do you clear your throat the most? Is it when you wake up in the morning or toward the end of the day? Is it during a meal or after a meal?
  • Have you had a history of sinus infections, allergies, asthma, or bronchitis?
  • Have you had an increase in gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn after eating?
Throat Clearing Tips

When Therapy Is Needed

For some patients, medications may not be helpful, or constant throat clearing may cause more irritation to the throat or vocal cords. For these patients, the doctor may recommend therapy exercises to help the patient reduce the amount of throat clearing.