Do you feel like something is stuck in your throat? Many people experience this feeling right behind their tongue or tonsils. This feeling may vary from mild to severe and occur on and off, while others may persistently experience these symptoms. This sensation may also be associated with other symptoms, such as pain or pressure in the chest, drooling, hoarseness, loss of appetite, or weight loss.
Any area in the throat may be affected. If you experience occasional difficulties swallowing, it may not be a concern. However, persistent difficulties may require medical attention. There are two main causes for difficult swallowing, which is medically referred to as dysphagia.
1. Something is blocking your throat or esophagus.
This condition may be associated with the following common causes:
- Food or object - Some type of food or object is stuck in your throat or esophagus, which is common among children and elderly people with dentures.
- Tonsillitis - Inflammation and chronic enlargement of the tonsils may make swallowing difficult. Tonsillitis is sometimes associated with fever and pain in the throat.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) - Stomach acid may travel back up into your esophagus, causing formation of ulcers in this long passageway, which results in scar formation. These scars (strictures) can make the esophagus narrower, making it harder to swallow.
- Esophagitis - Inflammation of the esophagus may be caused by conditions such as GERD, infection, or something small actually stuck in the esophagus. An allergic reaction to food or airborne particles may also trigger this inflammation, which would therefore cause this blocking sensation.
- Esophageal webs - Thin pieces of tissue stick out, forming webs in the walls of the esophagus. It may be a congenital condition, while others develop it later in life.
- Diverticula - Small sacs form in the walls of the esophagus or the throat. These may be congenital or developed later in life.
- Esophageal ring - A thin area of narrowing in the lower esophagus can cause sporadic difficulty swallowing solid foods.
- Esophageal tumors - New growths in the esophagus may be cancerous or benign.
- Growths outside the esophagus - This includes tumors, lymph nodes, and bone spurs on the vertebrae that press on the esophagus. This can also be caused by an enlarged thyroid gland in the neck that presses on both the throat and the esophagus.
2. The muscles and nerves in the throat and esophagus are not working right.
This can happen in people who:
- Experienced a stroke, a brain injury, or spinal cord injury.
- Have nervous system dysfunction that reduces the nerve and muscle function involved in swallowing, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
- Have an inflammatory condition involving the immune system, causing swelling and weakness, such as polymyositis or dermatomyositis.
- Have esophageal spasm, which occurs when muscles of the esophagus suddenly contract and prevent food from reaching the stomach.
- Have Scleroderma - hardening, weakening, and narrowing of the tissues of the esophagus that cause food and stomach acid to travel back up into the throat and mouth.
Remedies and Treatments
Depending on the doctor's physical examination and final diagnosis, treatments may vary:
- Throat infections like tonsillitis may require antibiotics, while symptoms caused by GERD and esophagitis may simply require stomach acid reduction medications. You should also avoid food that can cause allergic reactions as well as those that can increase stomach acidity, such as coffee, sour foods, alcoholic drinks, and spicy foods.
- Foreign objects such as fish bones that are stuck in the throat will require medical removal to obtain relief.
- If the cause is a tumor, either inside or surrounding the throat, it will probably require surgery, radiotherapy, and further medical treatment.
- If swallowing difficulties cannot be prevented, especially when the cause is congenital or neurological, you can reduce the risk of swallowing difficulties by chewing your food well and eating slowly.
Early detection and effective treatment of the underlying cause behind this symptom can lower your risk of developing dysphagia. Contact your doctor if your symptoms persist for more than one week. Furthermore, if you experience a sudden difficulty breathing call emergency medical services immediately as it might be life threatening.