Lump in Throat: Possible Causes and Treatment

By Alicia Wooldridge, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
June 6, 2022

Ever felt like something was caught in the back of your throat and just wouldn’t go away?

That uncomfortable feeling is called a globus sensation.

Other terms for this distracting and sometimes persistent sensation are globus pharyngeus or globus syndrome. 

The good news is that a lump in the throat is typically nothing to be concerned about.

As many as 46% of healthy individuals report experiencing this at some point or another, with the likelihood increasing for those who are middle-aged.

A lump in the throat can indicate anything from psychological stress to something more serious like cancers.

In this article, I’ll cover the common as well as uncommon causes, typical treatments, as well as prevention techniques.

I’ll also share when you should visit a medical professional.

Lump in Throat Causes

Early causes of a lump in the throat date back to Hippocrates, who linked the globus feeling with hysteria in women sometime around 486 BCE, calling it “globus hystericus.”

Globus is the Latin term for “ball,” so this translates to the feeling of a ball in your throat.

Nowadays, even though women are more likely to seek medical attention for the condition, people of all genders can experience it, and several causes have been identified.

There are many common causes of globus syndrome and some are more serious than others.

Here is a list of some of the common and serious causes of globus.

Common Causes

There are several causes of globus syndrome, but I’ll share some of the most common.

These range from easily diagnosed conditions to more complex diagnoses, even if they are not highly serious causes.

One thing to note: a medical professional has to use a process of elimination to find the root cause of globus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease: This is the first issue that a medical professional looks for when a patient reports globus sensations. Abnormal acid pH levels found in the throat have been linked with globus syndrome. This association has two potential explanations; one is direct irritation to the laryngopharynx from gastric contents and the other is abnormal vagovagal reflex tightness.

Esophageal movement  disorders: Conditions affecting how the esophageal muscle functions is another leading cause of globus. Up to 90% of patients with globus are diagnosed with an esophageal movement disorder. The globus feeling fades as the motor disorder is treated.

Pharyngeal inflammation: Issues that cause irritation or inflammation of the pharynx can cause globus. Examples include pharyngitis, tonsillitis, and chronic sinusitis with post nasal drip.

Hypertrophy of the tongue base: Hypertrophy or enlargement of the tongue base is often confused for gastroesophageal reflux issues, and so this type of hypertrophy must be considered when trying to determine the cause of globus. 

Abnormal upper esophageal sphincter (UES) function: Poor or abnormal UES function is another common diagnosis for patients reporting globus sensations. Pressure in this area of the throat is linked with globus patients, with up to 28% of those with globus having a hypertensive UES history.  

Psychological stress and other psychological factors: Psychological distress, neuroticism, and an introverted personality type are associated with globus sensations. Associations have also been made between globus and depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, and environmental stress. 

More Serious Causes

Some more serious causes for globus pharyngeus include rare tumors or thyroid problems.

Any persistent feeling of having something stuck in your throat should be brought to your doctor’s attention as soon as possible.

Rare laryngopharyngeal tumors: In rare cases, patients reporting symptoms of globus were later diagnosed with a lesion or tumor in the throat. One case study describes a patient who was presumed to have psychological causes for their symptoms and diagnosis was delayed. Once an endoscopy was completed, however, a muscle tumor in the pharynx was identified, emphasizing the importance of getting a full examination.

Pharyngeal cancer: Common symptoms of pharyngeal cancer include nasal congestion and swelling around the neck, both of which might lead to the globus sensation. This might be accompanied by a lump on the upper part of the neck that is not painful. While the exact cause of pharyngeal cancer isn’t known, it can be diagnosed with a process that also begins with an endoscopy. Diagnosing a malignant tumor or cancer also requires taking a biopsy of the cells involved.

Thyroid diseases: As many as one-third of patients who had thyroid surgery also reported initial symptoms of globus, according to one study. Around 80% of patients also said they no longer experience the globus symptom after their operation. Thyroid issues can often go undetected or be misdiagnosed because of the wide variety of symptoms that thyroid issues can cause. The relationship between the thyroid and globus isn’t well understood, but thyroid problems should be ruled out during the diagnosis process to be safe.

Differentiating Between Serious and Common Symptoms

Sometimes a lump in your throat is nothing more than an abnormal sensation.

It’s hard to tell the difference between serious and common symptoms because they often look the same.

A medical professional’s process of elimination can help you get the right diagnosis and treatment.  

The most common cause of globus, gastroesophageal reflux disease also tends to bring symptoms of heartburn, belching, and regurgitation.

Bring these symptoms up with your doctor for potential treatment options.

And if you aren’t experiencing any of these other symptoms, visit your healthcare provider to receive an examination and diagnosis.

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Possible Treatments for Non-Serious Causes

There are many potential treatments for non-serious causes of globus sensations.

Which of these your doctor chooses will depend on what the associated cause of the issue is.

The first step in determining the cause is often a nasolaryngoscopy or another endoscopy exam.

This is when the doctor inserts an endoscope, or a special type of camera, down through your nose or throat to be able to examine your throat and voice box.

This process may or may not include taking a biopsy of the tissue in the area for further examination.

The most common cause of globus sensations is gastroesophageal reflux disease, which can be diagnosed from the medical examination.

Treatment can begin immediately following the diagnosis.

In this case, the patient is given a high dose of proton pump inhibitors such as Lansoprazole.

Research on this treatment shows that 80% of patients feel that their symptoms of globus are “dramatically improved” after eight weeks of treatment with the medication.

Esophageal movement  disorders, also known as esophageal motility disorders, are diagnosed when a person or patient is having trouble swallowing.

To swallow, the pharynx, tongue, and esophagus each need to be working properly.

When these organs of the throat aren’t functioning well, treatment can involve medications that either reduce or increase muscle activity depending on which organ isn’t performing as it should.

Treatment can sometimes include psychological aspects as well.

Abnormal upper esophageal sphincter (UES) function is included in esophageal motor disorders.

Pharyngeal inflammation, including laryngitis, might require voice rest, inhaling steam, avoiding irritants like smoking or alcohol, dietary changes, and/or medication as part of the treatment plan.

If inflammation is caused by a viral upper respiratory infection,  supportive care will help your body while it fights the infection. 

Treating psychological factors of globus might lead to speech therapy and/or language therapy.

Reassurance of the patient’s health may also help those experiencing psychological distress that exacerbates the globus sensations.

Preventing Lump in Throat Sensation

Preventing uncomfortable or distracting throat sensations starts with staying hydrated and eating well.

Taking care of your throat also includes avoiding activities that are likely to cause irritation or inflammation, including but not limited to:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Consuming caffeine

One tip recommended for those who occasionally experience globus symptoms is to avoid coughing or clearing your throat and instead sip on cold or carbonated water.

Is it Common to Experience a Lump in Your Throat?

As previously mentioned, as many as 46% of otherwise healthy individuals report experiencing globus sensations.

Many (up to 45%) who have globus sensations report still having them after a follow-up survey if they do not seek treatment.

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When to See a Medical Professional 

Your throat is home to multiple organs needed for eating, drinking, swallowing, speaking, and breathing.

If you are experiencing the sensation of a lump in the throat that becomes distracting or hasn’t gone away after the time it normally takes for you to get over a cold, get in touch with a medical professional. 

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms along with the globus sensation, book an appointment with a medical professional.

These can indicate more serious concerns such as cancer:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I feel like I have a lump in my throat?
You might have the feeling of a lump in your throat due to anything from stress to cancer. The feeling can be caused by psychological distress, issues with the muscles in your throat, or more serious causes like thyroid disease or cancer. Visiting a healthcare professional for a diagnosis is the best option to put your mind at ease.
How do I get rid of the lump in my throat sensation?
If you go to a medical professional, you can receive a proper diagnosis for treatment. If you don’t have any other accompanying symptoms, sipping on water will often make the sensation go away on its own. But for any persistent sensation, it’s always best to get checked by a doctor as it could be indicating something more serious.
How do I know if a lump in my throat is serious?
Only a diagnosis from a medical professional will be able to confirm whether you should be concerned or not. If you are experiencing symptoms of cancer such as unexplained weight loss, make an appointment with your doctor immediately. To know if the lump is serious, they will use special mirrors or recording devices to see in your throat and determine if a more in-depth examination is needed.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Alicia Wooldridge, MD

Dr. Alicia Wooldridge is a board certified Family Medicine physician with over a decade of experience.

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