LET’S BE CLEAR: Breaking the Habit of Chronic Throat Clearing

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As an asthmatic, allergenic, singer, actor, teacher, and ex-smoker (it’s true!), I know all too well the cyclical slippery slope that is chronic throat clearing. It starts with a tickle, a sensation of mucus blockage, or a bit of raspiness in speech. It feels so satisfying, gratifying, and useful to clear it all away with a strong, “AHEM!” But did you know that throat clearing is actually perpetuating the conditions you’re attempting to remedy?

When you clear the throat, an excessive amount of movement is wreaked on the vocal folds, causing them to slam together and create friction. This action exacerbates the situation, making you feel the need to continuously clear the throat to “soothe” the aggravation, when you are, in fact, worsening it.

Throat clearing is a symptom, not a diagnosis. It results from something affecting the throat or airways. It can be caused by something actually being stuck in the back of your throat, but often, we feel the tickle or sensation without anything actually being there.

This process can become habitual. Triggering and re-triggering to no end. This repeated cycle can induce long-term damage to the throat and vocal cords. Throat clearing is deemed “chronic” when symptoms last over three months. 

 


 

First thing you need to pinpoint is: Am I a physiological or psychological throat-clearer? OR A COMBINATION OF THE TWO?

PHYSIOLOGICAL

Does there feel as if you have a perpetual tickle in the throat/voice? Do you consistently feel a build up of mucus in your throat? Does this abundance of phlegm cause hoarseness or alteration to your voice?

Many things can be attributed to an excess of mucus/aggravation in the throat:

• allergies
• cold
• post-nasal drip
• asthma
• acid reflux - also know as gastroesophogeal reflux disorder (GERD)
• smoking
• excessive alcohol intake
• food allergies/inflammation
• side effects from blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors)

 

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR: 

• Clearing your throat is disrupting sleep or altering speech

• The aggravation is resulting in persistent hoarseness or laryngitis

• You are having problems breathing and/or swallowing 

 

If your issue is physical, here are some suggestions to reduce mucus/throat aggravation:

• stay hydrated

• drink warm liquids - hot water with lemon or decaf teas

• take small sips of water throughout the day

• suck on clove or cardamom after meals (natural mucus reducer/aids digestion)

• sinus irrigation (saline spray or Neti Pot)

• reduce intake of dairy, caffeine, and alcohol (increases mucus/dehydrates)

• use a personal steam inhaler/inhale shower steam

• purchase a cool-mist humidifier or essential oil diffuser (be sure to clean frequently - mold will make symptoms worse!)

• utilize warm compresses on sinuses, throat

• quit smoking! 

• do an elimination diet to track any food intolerances/allergies 

• gargle with salt water

• drink a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in water up to 3 times daily

• do not eat heavy meals before bed

 


 

PSYCHOLOGICAL

Psychological throat clearing is behavioral habituation triggered by:

• stress
• anxiety
• nerves
• habit/repetition
• discomfort in conversation, performance, or public speaking

When it comes to psychological throat clearing, the biggest tool is awareness. Monitor yourself in situations and observe how frequently you clear or have the urge to clear. Ask others to call you out when you do it.  Be mindful of what is triggering you. Do you feel stressed, awkward, uncomfortable, bored, authoritative, etc.?  

 


 

THROAT CLEARING ALTERNATIVES

 

Whatever the cause of your throat aggravation, you can utilize these alternatives to help break the cycle:

Dry Swallow - Swallowing saliva closes the vocal folds and can rid them of mucus.

Speaking Through The Aggravation -Talk through the mucus/raspiness. The natural vibration of the vocal folds may rid the folds of secretions.

 

See video below for examples of the following:

Silent Cough/Silent Throat Clear - Use your breath support to push air through the vocal folds. The strong airflow blows the mucus off the vocal folds.

Panting - Lightly pant with the mouth open and tongue out. Then swallow

Gentle Hum Series 

Gentle Laugh 

The “Woo-Woo”

 


 

If you do not garner any relief by incorporating these shifts/suggestions into your routine, be sure to consult with an ENT doctor who can help assess if there are deeper roots to the issue.  

May this help you CLEAR the path to a happier and healthier throat/voice and create consciousness and clarity in your communication! 

 


 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT LESSONS WITH ABBY, visit: 

http://www.abbyahmad.com/vocal-coaching

15 comments

  • Rick

    Rick

    Just wanted to let you know i found this very helpful!

    Just wanted to let you know i found this very helpful!

  • Abby Ahmad

    Abby Ahmad

    So glad to hear it, Rick! :)

    So glad to hear it, Rick! smile

  • jw

    jw

    i have this problem for almosy 4 years. The raspiness part is so true! The doctor have all diagnosed it's nothing big of a deal and i manage to convince myself thats its a habit and pyschological problem. If its habit and pyschological, why does the mucus being there feel so real. I kept failing to break the habit because its too hard , especially the mucus/raspiness there. How long does one person takes to break this habit on average?

    i have this problem for almosy 4 years. The raspiness part is so true! The doctor have all diagnosed it's nothing big of a deal and i manage to convince myself thats its a habit and pyschological problem. If its habit and pyschological, why does the mucus being there feel so real. I kept failing to break the habit because its too hard , especially the mucus/raspiness there. How long does one person takes to break this habit on average?

  • jw

    jw

    and sometimes clearing the throat can be so hard, its like solving a puzzle. You have to do so much pattern and tricks to clear the mucus sensation and it really frustrates me. Do you have any tips on that?

    and sometimes clearing the throat can be so hard, its like solving a puzzle. You have to do so much pattern and tricks to clear the mucus sensation and it really frustrates me. Do you have any tips on that?

  • Shawn

    Shawn

    Just like to state i'm experiencing the same as jw.

    Just like to state i'm experiencing the same as jw.

  • Don Gravelle

    Don Gravelle NU, USa

    I'm PRETY DAMN SURE that I DON'T clear my throat for hours and hours every night because it's a HABIT!!!!!! D*MN!!!! What I wouldn't do to be able to BREATHE comfortably at night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The back of my throat has fluid dripping at an unbelievable RATE! One of my friends recently told me that I have a 'bad habit' of clearing my thoat! BAD HABIT!??????????????? I'M trying to get AIR DOWN MY WINDPIPE YOU A**!!!!!!!!!!

    I'm PRETY DAMN SURE that I DON'T clear my throat for hours and hours every night because it's a HABIT!!!!!! D*MN!!!! What I wouldn't do to be able to BREATHE comfortably at night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The back of my throat has fluid dripping at an unbelievable RATE! One of my friends recently told me that I have a 'bad habit' of clearing my thoat! BAD HABIT!??????????????? I'M trying to get AIR DOWN MY WINDPIPE YOU A**!!!!!!!!!!

  • Gina

    Gina

    Ty!

    Ty!

  • Lorraine

    Lorraine

    This is not a habit, it's a real problem. Oftentimes, especially in the morning, I'll try to say hello or good morning to someone and I unexpectedly sound like a disgusting monster. It's embarrassing as all hell. So I HAVE to clear my throat, cough, use different throat clearing patterns and forces to prevent myself from ever sounding like that again. It's horrible. I can feel mucus there and it definitely is, if it catches me off guard like that and humiliating me when I'm just trying to talk to someone. There doesn't seem to be any solution for this problem. I have no allergies either, it's just a constant thing for 2 decades for me all year round. It sucks because I spend just about every day fighting my throat.

    This is not a habit, it's a real problem. Oftentimes, especially in the morning, I'll try to say hello or good morning to someone and I unexpectedly sound like a disgusting monster. It's embarrassing as all hell. So I HAVE to clear my throat, cough, use different throat clearing patterns and forces to prevent myself from ever sounding like that again. It's horrible. I can feel mucus there and it definitely is, if it catches me off guard like that and humiliating me when I'm just trying to talk to someone. There doesn't seem to be any solution for this problem. I have no allergies either, it's just a constant thing for 2 decades for me all year round. It sucks because I spend just about every day fighting my throat.

  • Pat

    Pat St Louis

    This is a real problem for me and I'm at my wits end! My family and co-workers are planning to kill me! It's frustrating and embarrassing! I'll have an "episode" of clearing for maybe an hour once, sometimes twice a day. (Once, it went on for FIVE hours!) This has been going on for years and seems to be more frequent recently. Most often this starts after I've been awake for a few hours, but not always. There is really no pattern that I can identify. I deal with it year-round, so I don't think its allergies. I don't smoke. I don't have asthma, or a cold, or sinus issues, or drainage. I don't do it because I'm nervous or stressed. I've done elimination diets to confirm its not a sensitivity to dairy, wheat, etc. Sometimes it even occurs when I haven't eaten at all. I've tried drinking hot or cold liquids, which changes nothing. My primary doctor recommended Flonase, which did nothing. The ENT doctor used a camera in his office through my nose, throat, and vocal cords to make sure there were no abnormalities, which there weren't (I cant even begin to tell you how strange that feels, by the way!!!). He prescribed me a steroid inhaler that would act as an anti inflammatory, which did nothing. I do have acid reflex, but he didn't believe that is causing the problem because the medicine I'm on for that seems to work really well. My next step is to see an allergist to identify possible indoor triggers.

    This is a real problem for me and I'm at my wits end! My family and co-workers are planning to kill me! It's frustrating and embarrassing! I'll have an "episode" of clearing for maybe an hour once, sometimes twice a day. (Once, it went on for FIVE hours!) This has been going on for years and seems to be more frequent recently. Most often this starts after I've been awake for a few hours, but not always. There is really no pattern that I can identify. I deal with it year-round, so I don't think its allergies. I don't smoke. I don't have asthma, or a cold, or sinus issues, or drainage. I don't do it because I'm nervous or stressed. I've done elimination diets to confirm its not a sensitivity to dairy, wheat, etc. Sometimes it even occurs when I haven't eaten at all. I've tried drinking hot or cold liquids, which changes nothing. My primary doctor recommended Flonase, which did nothing. The ENT doctor used a camera in his office through my nose, throat, and vocal cords to make sure there were no abnormalities, which there weren't (I cant even begin to tell you how strange that feels, by the way!!!). He prescribed me a steroid inhaler that would act as an anti inflammatory, which did nothing. I do have acid reflex, but he didn't believe that is causing the problem because the medicine I'm on for that seems to work really well.
    My next step is to see an allergist to identify possible indoor triggers.

  • scott

    scott florida

    if its not physiological, [and its usually NOT], from personal experience, i can tell you that 5 element acupuncture solves this problem....... but it takes more than one treatment........but at the same time many other things will be improved. Does anyone doubt Dan Gravelle above has any out of balance emotion issues?

    if its not physiological, [and its usually NOT], from personal experience, i can tell you that 5 element acupuncture solves this problem....... but it takes more than one treatment........but at the same time many other things will be improved.

    Does anyone doubt Dan Gravelle above has any out of balance emotion issues?

  • scott

    scott florida

    I must comment on Pat's comment.....one does not have to have a big incident to be stressed....guilt, anticipation and all sorts of other things cause stress.....JUST LIVING in our present society causes stress.......most of the time you will not know you are stressed..... I have also seen people 'cured' when given a diagnosis and treatment by a doctor that was NOT directly causing the situation......placebo cures can happen in stress caused 'illnesses'. You must realize your subconscious mind has the same control over your body as your conscious mind does........ Being someone that has gone through 3 debilitating stress caused 'illnesses' I can promise you that........and I have no obvious reasons to be that 'stressed' AT ALL....... An excellent book on the subject is "Healing Back Pain' by Dr. Sarno, who was head of new York university orthopedics dept........its a 10$ paperback.....I can tell you it saved my life and opened my eyes...........tho his conclusion on acupuncture was wrong[a VERY small part of his book].

    I must comment on Pat's comment.....one does not have to have a big incident to be stressed....guilt, anticipation and all sorts of other things cause stress.....JUST LIVING in our present society causes stress.......most of the time you will not know you are stressed.....

    I have also seen people 'cured' when given a diagnosis and treatment by a doctor that was NOT directly causing the situation......placebo cures can happen in stress caused 'illnesses'.

    You must realize your subconscious mind has the same control over your body as your conscious mind does........

    Being someone that has gone through 3 debilitating stress caused 'illnesses' I can promise you that........and I have no obvious reasons to be that 'stressed' AT ALL.......

    An excellent book on the subject is "Healing Back Pain' by Dr. Sarno, who was head of new York university orthopedics dept........its a 10$ paperback.....I can tell you it saved my life and opened my eyes...........tho his conclusion on acupuncture was wrong[a VERY small part of his book].

  • Paula

    Paula England

    I believe it can sometimes be a habit, my next door neighbour does this every day at 0700 , his bathroom is against my bedroom wall, he also does it at bedtime. It wakes me every time and as I work shifts I am getting extremely tired from being woken. I have sent polite messages to his partner asking if he has to do it so loud, he says he doesn't like him doing it either but he is stressed at work and it is a habit.

    I believe it can sometimes be a habit, my next door neighbour does this every day at 0700 , his bathroom is against my bedroom wall, he also does it at bedtime.
    It wakes me every time and as I work shifts I am getting extremely tired from being woken.
    I have sent polite messages to his partner asking if he has to do it so loud, he says he doesn't like him doing it either but he is stressed at work and it is a habit.

  • Jim

    Jim Atlanta

    It's not habit, it's an actual thing. I have narrowed it down to what seems to be post nasal drip. I take Flonase and it worked pretty good for the last year to the point that I hardly ever felt the need to clear. Recently it seems to be coming back again. The nasal spray doesn't seem to have the same effect as it did. It's very embarrassing and you try to conceal the clearing but it's hard to do when you are clearing every 30 seconds or so! I'm going to switch to Nasacort today with hopes it will again work to dry my sinuses up! This sucks!

    It's not habit, it's an actual thing. I have narrowed it down to what seems to be post nasal drip. I take Flonase and it worked pretty good for the last year to the point that I hardly ever felt the need to clear. Recently it seems to be coming back again. The nasal spray doesn't seem to have the same effect as it did. It's very embarrassing and you try to conceal the clearing but it's hard to do when you are clearing every 30 seconds or so! I'm going to switch to Nasacort today with hopes it will again work to dry my sinuses up! This sucks!

  • Sandi

    Sandi New Mexico

    Dealing with this for 6 years...I’m so tired of it. Diagnostically I have tried it all. “Unspecified origin” or “inconclusive “ results, but it’s still there. Every day, all day and night. The coughing at night is the worst. People always comment too...makes going to the movies, church, or meetings ver uncomfortable. This is wrecking my life!

    Dealing with this for 6 years...I’m so tired of it. Diagnostically I have tried it all. “Unspecified origin” or “inconclusive “ results, but it’s still there. Every day, all day and night. The coughing at night is the worst. People always comment too...makes going to the movies, church, or meetings ver uncomfortable. This is wrecking my life!

  • Donald

    Donald Georgia

    First off, in my case it's definitely mucus. The amount that's brought up by a quick throat clearing is unmistakably real. Not to mention the gurgling sound that afflicts my voice if I talk at the wrong moment. All of the techniques in the video would likely come off as just as annoying to my roommate, although I can at least laugh if I'm watching something funny, so perhaps my initial instinct to go up in my room the second she's around is a good One, or at least as soon as I feel like clearing my throat.

    First off, in my case it's definitely mucus. The amount that's brought up by a quick throat clearing is unmistakably real. Not to mention the gurgling sound that afflicts my voice if I talk at the wrong moment.

    All of the techniques in the video would likely come off as just as annoying to my roommate, although I can at least laugh if I'm watching something funny, so perhaps my initial instinct to go up in my room the second she's around is a good One, or at least as soon as I feel like clearing my throat.

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