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Last updated May 28, 2017, originally published November 27, 2015
By L. Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Something’s wrong – you have a lump in your throat which you can’t
get rid of. You find it difficult to swallow. There’s a strange sensation of
having an object lodged in your throat. You feel like you may choke or
gag. When you have a lump in your throat it is generally not painful,
but it is “usually long-lasting, difficult to treat, and has a tendency to
recur” according to a 2012 study from Pusan National University
Hospital, South Korea.
A lump in your throat can be disturbing and annoying. It’s a common
condition that is responsible for around 4 percent of admissions to ear,
nose and throat clinics (Moloy PJ, Charter R., 1982), and up to 46
percent of healthy people report it, with a peak incidence in middle age,
according to a 1993 study from the University of North Carolina, 1993.
What exactly causes this condition? And how can you treat a lump in
What Exactly is a Lump in Your Throat?
It was the great medical pioneer Hippocrates who first drew attention
to the humble condition of the lump in the throat, around 2,500 years
ago. Having a lump in the throat is also referred to as "globus
In the past, the term globus hystericus was used because of a
supposed connection between a hysterical personality and the
condition, which has since been discarded. The exact causes of a lump
in the throat are largely unknown but the condition comes from
pressure on the thyroid cartilage in the neck due to the contraction of
the strap muscles in the neck.
What Causes a Lump in the Throat?
The contraction of these strap muscles could be the result of various
factors. A sad movie or song may cause a “lump in your throat” as the
saying goes, and this is probably because the condition is often linked
with psychological conditions like anxiety, depression, and stress.
Many people who are suffering from a lump in the throat are also going
through a seriously stressful event such as a break-up, divorce, or have
recently suffered bereavement.
Reflux is a prime cause of the lump in the throat sensation as the
muscles in the neck and throat tighten to prevent acid coming up from
the stomach into the mouth.
Sometimes the sensation can be caused by muscle problems in the
esophagus, or an injury or inflammation caused to the throat by
trauma, or by an inflammatory condition. In very rare cases a lump in
the throat can be the sign of a thyroid problem.
Is a Lump in the Throat Dangerous?
Most people who experience a lump in the throat do not require
immediate medical attention, even if the condition is annoying.
But if you also suffer from throat or neck pain, unexplained weight
loss, pain when swallowing or choking, spitting up food, muscle
weakness, or a visible mass in the throat, you need to see a doctor as
soon as possible.
For other, less serious causes there are a variety of treatments you can
try. We looked at recent scientific literature to find out how to remedy a
lump in the throat.
1. Treat a Lump in the Throat Caused by Gastroesophageal Reflux
KG Malcomson was the first scientist, in 1968, to link Gastroesophageal
reflux disease (GERD) with a lump in the throat. He uncovered the link
by demonstrating that reflux was present in over 60 percent of patients
with lump in the throat symptoms.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when you at least have two
episodes of acid reflux per week. GERD can be treated with antacids. A
natural treatment for the condition involves deglycyrrhizinated licorice
(DGL), a special type of licorice distilled from the herb.
In a 1978 study by Reed PI and Davies WA, the drug carbenoxolone,
which is similar to licorice in form, provokes good treatment results for
people with a lump in the throat due to gastroesophageal reflux disease.
2. Abnormal Function in Your Esophagus Leads to a Lump in the Throat
Unusual upper esophageal sphincter function causes a lump in the
throat, according to experts. Greater pressure in the upper esophagus
has been found to be much more likely on people with a lump in their
throat than those without, according to a 1998 study from Allegheny
University Hospitals, Philadelphia.
Injecting botulinum toxin into the affected muscle led to a reduction in
the symptom of a lump in the throat, according to a 2005 study from
the Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders of Wake Forest
3. Esophageal Motor Disorders Cause a Lump in the Throat
Motor disorders affecting the esophagus are believed to account for up
to 67 percent of cases involving a lump in the throat, according to a
1994 study from the University of Helsinki, Finland. Treating the
underlying motor disorder is critical for removing the feeling of the
lump in the throat, according to researchers.
4. A Lump in the Throat Caused by Inflammation of the Pharynx
Conditions that cause inflammation and irritation in the pharynx, such
as tonsillitis, pharyngitis, and chronic sinusitis can result in the
sensation of a lump in the throat because the area is sensitive and can
be damaged by the irritation. Studies show that eucalyptus oil extract,
cineole, is useful for treating sinusitis because it helps to thin mucous
and relieve inflammation. A 2004 study from Klink and Ambulatorium
für HNO-Frankeiten, Aachen, Germany demonstrated how the extract
helped cases of viral sinusitis in 152 people. Symptoms were
significantly less in the treatment group than the control group. '
5. Thyroid Diseases May Cause a Lump in the Throat
While it may be rare that a lump in the throat is caused by a thyroid
problem, studies like the 2008 report from University Hospital of
Louvain at Mont-Godinne, Yvoir, Belgium show that abnormalities in the
thyroid are more common in patients with symptoms of a lump than in
According to a 2007 study from the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital,
Dublin, Ireland as many as one-third of patients with an abnormal mass
in the thyroid complained of a lump in the throat. If the sensation
persists and you have difficulty swallowing, visit your doctor to rule out
6. Does Your Personality Cause a Lump in Your Throat?
Having a lump in the throat is more commonly experienced at times of
stress and distress, according to experts.
A 1995 study from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the UK
which looked at over 1,000 middle-aged women found that the women
who complained of having a lump in their throat had significantly
higher levels of anxiety, low mood, and sleeping problems.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has emerged as a treatment for lump in
the throat related to psychological distress and although more research
needs to be completed, cognitive behavioral therapy holds hope for the
future, according to a 2008 study from The Adelaide and Meath
Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.
7. Handle Stressful Events to Cope with a Lump in the Throat
Many studies report that stressful life events like death, divorce, and
job loss are connected with a greater incidence of experiencing the
symptoms of a lump in the throat.
In a 1996 study from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, people
with a lump in their throat had significantly more severe events in the
life in the preceding year than the control group.
In fact, according to the study, up to 96 percent of people with the
symptoms report an increase in their severity during periods of high
Speech therapy and relaxation techniques can treat symptoms of a
lump in the throat. In a 2003 study from Derriford Hospital, Plymouth
in the United Kingdom 92 percent of patients experienced a relief in
symptoms following speech therapy and relaxation exercises.
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|Inflammation of your larynx can cause
that lump-in-the-throat feeling.