What causes throat clearing?

Conditions that cause throat clearing can include an infectious disease, scar tissue or irritated tissue from a recent injury to the throat or an injury that is healing, an obstruction, or a noninfectious condition.

Infectious causes of throat clearing

Throat clearing may be caused by infectious disorders including:

  • Abscess (infected sore) in the throat
  • Mononucleosis (viral infection)
  • Other bacterial or viral infections
  • Sinusitis (post nasal drip)
  • Strep throat (bacterial throat infection)
  • Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils in the back of the throat)

Injury-related causes of throat clearing

In some cases, throat clearing may be a symptom of an injury to the throat. These include damage to the tissues of the throat from:

  • Chemical exposure
  • Excessive coughing
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Obstruction
  • Pollution
  • Tobacco use
  • Voice strain

Other causes of throat clearing

Throat clearing may sometimes be caused by other conditions, including tics (repetitive, stereotyped movements or vocalizations).

Serious or life-threatening causes of throat clearing

In some cases, throat clearing may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Throat cancer
  • Toxic chemical exposure

Questions for diagnosing the cause of throat clearing

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your throat clearing including:

  • How long have you been clearing your throat?
  • Have you had a cough? If you are coughing up mucus, what color is it?
  • Are you having any difficulty breathing?
  • Are you having difficulty swallowing?
  • Have the glands in your neck felt swollen or tender to the touch?
  • Have you experienced fever or chills?
  • Have you noticed any white patches or pus in your throat?
  • Have you been vomiting recently?
  • Do you ever experience gastric reflux?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Have you been exposed to any chemicals or fumes?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of throat clearing?

Throat clearing is not typically associated with serious complications, but it can disrupt your life. In some cases, when it is accompanied by other symptoms, throat clearing can be due to serious diseases; failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Adverse effects of treatment
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Rheumatic fever (complication of strep throat)
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Symptom progression of underlying condition


  1. Throat problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/throat-problems.html.
  2. Throat disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/throatdisorders.html.
  3. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  4. Ferri FF. Ferri’s Differential Diagnosis, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2011.

What is throat clearing?

Throat clearing is an instinctive attempt to remove an irritant in the throat by consciously or unconsciously vibrating the muscles in your throat, especially your voice box (larynx). Throat clearing is something everyone does once in a while. It becomes a symptom of a medical problem only when it is a response to persistent irritation or discomfort in the throat.

Sensations that ... Read more about throat clearingintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with throat clearing?

Throat clearing may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the throat may also involve other body systems.

Throat symptoms that may occur along with throat clearing

Throat clearing may accompany other symptoms affecting the throat including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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