Kim Richard Jones, M.D., Ph.D.
Adult and Pediatric Otolaryngology
Kathy Yu, M.D., M.P.H.
Adult and Pediatric Otolaryngology
Carolina ENT Associates 55 Vilcom Center Drive, Suite 140
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
phone: 919.942.7278
fax: 919.942.9029
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Lump in Throat

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The sensation of a lump in the throat, or feeling like something is stuck in the throat, is called “globus pharyngeus”. Globus means “ball” and pharyngeus is “throat”, thus “ball in the throat”. It is not an uncommon condition, as it is the chief complaint in about 5% of patients seen by ear, nose, and throat doctors. It is more commonly seen in women than men. The cause is unknown; at various times thyroid conditions, acid reflux from the stomach, or a spastic sphincter muscle in the upper esophagus have all been suggested as possible causes. However, research has shown that no one cause can account for the symptom in all patients, and indeed the cause remains unknown in many patients.

The most important thing to know about globus pharyngeus is that it is not a sign of throat cancer. The best long-term study of patients with globus followed more than 70 patients for more than seven years. In no patient did a cancer, or in fact any other serious illness, ever develop that was related to their globus sensation. At the end of the seven years, 55% of patients stated their globus sensation had gone away, 25% still had the sensation but it was better, and 20% had not noticed any change.

Work-up of globus pharyngeus

The work-up of globus is fairly straightforward. It involves taking a careful history, feeling the outside of the throat for any lumps in the thyroid or elsewhere, and examining the inside of the throat with a flexible telescope. If other symptoms are present, a barium swallow or other x-rays may be recommended.

Treatment of globus pharyngeus

Usually no treatment of globus is necessary. If you have a history or physical findings that are strongly suggestive of reflux disease, some sort of anti-reflux therapy may be suggested. If inflammation of the throat is suspected, a strong anti-inflammatory such as prednisone may be tried for a week or two. However, for most patients reassurance and close follow-up is sufficient.

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