What causes hoarseness & throat clearing after eating?
The most common causes of hoarseness and constant throat clearing after eating are:
- excessive phlegm production
- coughing up mucus
- throat irritation
- lump in throat
- globus sensation
Those who regularly have such symptoms usually suffer from an underlying medical condition. The most common health issues causing these symptoms are:
- silent reflux, acid reflux
- vocal cord nodules
- food allergy
The most common problem is probably silent reflux, which – if left untreated – can cause both laryngitis and esophagitis and worsen vocal cord nodules.
Other possible causes are vocal cord dysfunction and asthma. However, these conditions can trigger hoarseness or throat clearing at any time, not only after eating.
Constantly clearing throat after eating
Too much mucus and phlegm in the voice box or throat forces us to clear our throats. While this happens now and then to most people, some experience this symptom way too often after having a meal.
The most common cause of eating-related throat clearing is the backup (reflux) of stomach acids into the food pipe, which often happens to people suffering from acid reflux and silent reflux.
Many reflux sufferers find that they are always clearing their throat after eating. These are the most common conditions causing this symptom:
Hoarseness & esophagitis
Esophagitis is the inflammation of the esophagus. Vomiting, certain medication, and infections might be the culprit, but by far the most common cause of esophagitis is acid reflux.
The lining of the esophagus is not designed to withstand the acidic environment of the stomach. Therefore if gastric acid can seep up into the esophagus (this condition is called acid reflux), it irritates the mucosal lining of the esophagus, causing inflammation.
The condition is called reflux esophagitis and it is very common.
Besides hoarseness, people often experience chest pain (heartburn), a globus sensation, or swallowing problems.
Hoarseness, throat clearing & laryngitis
Laryngitis is the inflammation of the voice box.
When stomach acid enters the food pipe, sometimes it doesn’t stop in the esophagus but travels all the way up to the voice box and throat. This condition is called silent reflux or laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).
Just like in the case of the esophagus, the mucosal cells of the voice box and throat cannot withstand the irritation caused by the highly acidic stomach contents and the result is inflammation.
Other common symptoms of this condition are:
- phlegm in throat
- lump in throat
- sour taste in the mouth
Even though stomach acid flows through the esophagus, heartburn is not a common symptom of this condition. People with silent reflux may not have chest pain at all.
Hoarseness & vocal cord nodules
Vocal cord nodules usually affect people who use their voices too often, too heavily.
Frequent singing, yelling, etc. puts pressure on the vocal cord, which causes growths forming on the vocal cords. These growths make the voice sound hoarse or raspy.
People with this condition usually have a hoarse voice even between meals, eating is not a typical trigger.
However, silent reflux can worsen this condition, too. Stomach acids might irritate these growths, causing additional inflammation or swelling, making the existing hoarseness even worse.
Hoarseness is the most typical symptom of this condition, but throat discomfort and throat clearing are also common symptoms.
Hoarseness immediately after eating
Experiencing symptoms like throat irritation, itchy throat, or hoarseness right after (within minutes) eating might be a sign of a food allergy.
If a food allergy is the culprit, hoarseness only occurs after eating the food or ingredient you are allergic to.
Other common symptoms of food allergies are:
- rashes, hives
- itchy skin or eyes, runny nose
- swollen body parts (often the throat, tongue, or lips)
If any of the above symptoms accompany hoarseness or throat clearing after eating, it is important to get tested by an allergist. In rare cases, food allergies might cause very severe breathing problems (anaphylaxis), that require immediate help.
Common trigger foods
Since both hoarseness and throat clearing is usually caused by silent reflux, the most common trigger foods are the ones that induce silent reflux.
Clearing throat after eating dairy
Full-fat cow milk is a possible trigger of acid reflux and might cause phlegm in the throat. Many people are allergic or intolerant to milk, which might also be the issue.
Those who have the above-mentioned typical allergy symptoms, or experience symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, or stomach pain after drinking milk should talk to an allergist.
Switching to plant-based milks might prevent symptoms.
Hoarseness after eating bread
Bread is also a possible trigger of reflux. However, just like in the case of milk, people might be sensitive or intolerant to the gluten content of bread.
If only foods that contain wheat, barley, rye, or other grains are causing symptoms, you should talk to an allergist.
Other common trigger foods and drinks are:
- fried, fatty foods
- spicy foods
- coffee, alcohol, soda
How to clear a phlegmy throat?
If silent reflux is causing the phlegmy throat, you can try these natural methods to get rid of the throat mucus fast:
- Do not lie down right after eating. It increases the risk of acid reflux.
- A few small sips of water might wash stomach contents back into the stomach.
- Chewing gum might also be very effective. The frequent swallowing of saliva might help to clear the throat.
Lifestyle and dietary changes can go a long way in preventing silent reflux symptoms:
- know your trigger foods and avoid them
- eat less, more frequently
- coffee, alcohol, soda, stress, and smoking are common triggers
- regular, light physical exercises might help
Hoarseness and constant throat clearing after eating are often caused by silent reflux.
If you are always coughing, clearing your throat after meals, have a hoarse voice, phlegm, or a lump in your throat, you might want to consult with an ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor.
Silent reflux is not easy to diagnose and if left untreated, might cause inflammation in the voice box.