Tightness in Throat: Causes and Treatments

In some serious cases, your doctor might recommend surgery.

Allergic reaction

Anaphylaxis is a fast, strong allergic reaction to something — often a food, drug, or insect sting. It can cause your throat to tighten up suddenly. You may feel like it’s very hard to swallow. It can happen minutes or hours after your exposure.

If an allergic reaction is the cause of your throat tightness, you might have some of these other symptoms:

If you notice any of these signs, call 911 right away.

Your doctor may prescribe an epinephrine self-injection pen to keep on hand if you know you have any allergies that could cause anaphylaxis. Remember that you’ll still need to call 911 right away after you use it. The medicine can wear off, or you could have a second reaction.

Tonsillitis

If you still have your tonsils, you can get tonsillitis. That’s when tonsils become inflamed because of an infection from viruses or bacteria.

Tonsillitis makes your tonsils swell and hurt. Your throat feels very sore. You may find it hard to swallow. Lymph nodes in your throat and neck can swell up too.

If tonsillitis is the cause of your tight throat, you may also have these symptoms:

If it’s caused by a viral infection, treat it with rest, warm liquids, throat lozenges, and gargles with saltwater to ease throat pain and tightness. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may ease fever and pain.

If a bacterial infection is the cause, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics.

If it happens often or makes it hard for you to breathe, swallow food, or sleep, you may need surgery to remove your tonsils.

Goiter

A goiter is when your thyroid swells. This is a big, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat. It makes hormones that keep your metabolism in balance. When it gets bigger, it can make your throat feel tight and closed up.

A goiter can happen if you don’t get enough iodine in your diet. This mineral is an important part of your thyroid’s hormone production.

Most people get enough iodine because it’s added to most table salt. It’s also found in seafood, seaweed, dairy products like yogurt or milk, and grains.

A goiter may happen if your levels of thyroid hormone are too low or too high. Graves’ disease is when your thyroid makes too many hormones. Hashimoto’s disease is when it makes too few.

Your thyroid can also grow nodules that cause swelling in your throat. Most of the time they’re not serious. But thyroid cancer can also cause throat swelling and tightness.

If a goiter is the cause of your throat tightness, you may also have these symptoms:

If you think you may have a goiter, see your doctor. Your doctor can feel your throat for any lumps and run tests to find the cause, such as:

  • Blood test to measure your thyroid hormone levels or spot any antibodies that suggest thyroid disease

  • Ultrasound or scan of your thyroid

  • Thyroid biopsy to draw out a fluid sample that’s sent to a lab for testing

Treatment of a goiter depends on the cause. If your case is mild and only causes a little swelling, you may just need to watch it.

To get enough iodine, use iodized table salt and eat fresh fish or shellfish, or seaweed foods like sushi. Cut back on iodine if your doctor says you get too much.

Medications can either raise or lower your thyroid hormone levels to get them back to normal. This can reduce the swelling.

If you have a very large goiter that makes it hard to breathe or swallow food, you can have surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid. Thyroid cancer is also treated with surgery.

Anxiety

Some research shows that anxiety can be linked to feelings of tightness in your throat. For example, globus is the medical term for the feeling of a lump in your throat. People who have this almost always say it’s worse when they’re stressed or anxious. This is at least in part because stress triggers muscle tension. 

Another condition related to tightness in your throat is dysphagia, which is when you have a hard time swallowing or feel like something is stuck in your throat. In one study, doctors were able to predict how severe participants’ dysphagia was based more on whether they said they had anxiety than on the standard physical exam and tests. 

Muscle tension dysphonia (MTD) 

This is when your voice gets strained because you’re having to put more pressure or effort into speaking because of an issue affecting your voice. It can make the muscles in your neck feel tense or tight when you talk. It also can make you sound gravely, hoarse, or raspy and make it hard or painful to speak.

It can be caused by several things, including: