Anxiety Can Affect Your Throat

Have you ever lost your voice due to stress? Have you ever suffered from a sore throat at times when you had a greater workload and felt particularly worried? We explain why it happens.
Anxiety Can Affect Your Throat
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 14 June, 2023

Anxiety can affect your throat. Indeed, it’s a condition that many of us have experienced at some time or another. Hoarseness, a feeling of a lump in the throat, and pain when swallowing. You might suffer any of these discomforts when you’re going through a stressful time of endless pressure with little time for calm and rest.

Sometimes, you neglect (or are unaware of) the multiple ways in which stress or anxiety impacts your health. You’re aware of emotional and cognitive symptoms, such as anguish, feeling overwhelmed, having problems making decisions or having to focus your attention. But, you often don’t associate, for example, the problem of insomnia or a stomach ache with your psychological state.

This means that you might visit primary care in search of a drug to soothe a cough, dryness, and sore throat. You may tell yourself that it’s a cold or an allergy. Therefore you ignore what’s really been disturbing your mind for days or weeks. Finally, it can end up affecting your whole body, including your vocal cords.

How anxiety affects your throat

Man suffering from stress sore throat

Sore throats always tend to put us on alert. The classic scratchy throat is worrying because it can signify the origin of a viral disease. Colds and flu are usually the most common cause. Allergies can also trigger this condition. However, a sore throat due to stress can be a surprise because there’s no specific viral or allergic factor. This discomfort is triggered by a psychological state.

Why does this happen? Stress is mental and physical exhaustion caused by demands that are beyond you and that you can’t control. But, how can mental overload lead to, for example, pharyngitis? Let’s find out.

Muscle tension (dysphonia)

Dysphonia is a disorder that affects the timbre of the voice. Suddenly, you experience hoarseness or a somewhat strange tonality to your voice. In addition, your throat feels uncomfortable. You feel like you’ve been shouting a lot and your throat is tired and inflamed.

Dysphonia can appear in situations of high stress. Sometimes, the simple act of speaking in public can cause it.

A study conducted by the University of  Missouri-Columbia (USA) claims that the origin lies in the muscular tension of this area of the throat. Elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are behind this situation.

Having trouble swallowing (hysterical bolus)

Have you ever felt a lump in your throat? The sensation in which you suddenly find it difficult to swallow saliva and feel as if something were obstructing your pharynx is called hysterical bolus or pharyngeal balloon. It occurs in intense states of stress or anxiety. They’re situations in which your brain prepares you to flee or face a dangerous and threatening stimulus.

To do this, it blocks processes related to your digestion or swallowing. For example, priority is given to bringing more oxygen to the muscles of your extremities and reducing tasks such as saliva production. This makes the throat tense, thus it’s difficult for you to swallow. It can even make you almost feel as if you’re drowning. However, these are more extreme situations.

Sore throat due to stress and changes in breathing

A sore throat when you’re anxious can also be the result of a change in your breathing. When you go through times of greater physiological intensity, anguish, worry, and external pressure, you usually experience the following:

  • You have a greater tendency to breathe through your mouth in an attempt to get more air. This makes your throat dry and sore.
  • Long-lasting states of stress often lead to sleep disturbances. In these cases, it’s common to suffer tachycardia and accelerated breathing. Also, during the night, you might end up breathing through your mouth in such a way that you suffer feelings of irritation, dryness, and discomfort.
Woman relaxing to relieve stress sore throat

How to avoid a sore throat due to anxiety

These alterations that originate from states such as stress or anxiety basically require a change in lifestyle. A sore throat is just a symptom, the manifestation of something that you must attend to, care for, and manage. Here are some helpful strategies:

  • Detect sources or stressful situations and make some changes. Even small alterations can mean great advantages for your well-being.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and become aware of any exhausting, negative, or irrational ideas so you can increase your feelings of well-being.
  • Learn new problem-solving techniques. Avoid, above all, persistent worry.
  • Apply relaxation and breathing techniques. For example, deep or diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Get enough rest and take care of your sleep hygiene.
  • Do some sport and stay active. Exercise increases your endurance and muscle tone. This allows you not only to improve your well-being but also your breathing.

Other non-infectious causes that cause a sore throat

On the other hand, you should take note of certain daily habits that can cause a sore throat without the presence of a viral or allergic factor. When they’re added to a sore throat caused by anxiety, they can hinder your treatment of the condition. Ideally, you should try to avoid the following, according to research:

  • Smoking. Both smokers themselves and those exposed to secondhand smoke (passive smoking) are at increased risk of sore throats. In addition, people with high levels of stress use cigarettes as a means to calm down. It’s best to look for other ways to relax.
  • Snoring is also associated with high frequencies of sore throat, although the direction of causation isn’t always clear. However, experiencing a sore throat frequently is a risk factor for snoring and vice versa. In these cases, a sore throat may be associated with adult obstructive sleep apnea. If you suffer from snoring, consult your doctor to identify the best solution.
  • Shouting and a high voice load can lead to a sore throat, according to people in professions that require the use (and overuse) of their voice. For example, aerobics instructors and school teachers report higher incidences of sore throats. In these cases, the ideal would be to identify tools that help reduce damage to the throat.

Finally, in all cases of sore throat, it’s best to visit the doctor first so they can rule out viral problems, inflammations, and allergies. In the event that this kind of discomfort is a constant in times of stress, don’t hesitate to use the above tips or consult a specialized professional.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.