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?
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:
• post-nasal drip
• acid reflux - also know as gastroesophogeal reflux disorder (GERD)
• 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 throat clearing is behavioral habituation triggered by:
• 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
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: