Common Culprits of That Cold Feeling in Your Throat - And How to Manage It
If you're reading this article, chances are you've been experiencing some cold feeling in your throat for no apparent reason. We're talking about a sensation that's quite different from the symptoms of a sore throat. Rather, it's a cool and almost minty feeling at the back of your throat, or even in your mouth. It might feel like you've breathed in after brushing your teeth with mint-flavored toothpaste. It might feel something similar to sucking in and swallowing a mentholated candy.
If you can relate to these feelings, then you're probably going out of your mind, searching online for what could possibly be causing that strange coldness in your throat. This symptom can be explained by a variety of conditions. The trick to uncovering the culprit is to determine whether you're also experiencing other symptoms associated with the following disorders.
Coldness in the Throat Related to GERD
Perhaps you get up in the middle of the night suddenly awakened by a cough. Maybe you've felt like you were being choked in your sleep. Or you could be at work after lunch break and you experience this weird cold feeling in your throat along with a stabbing sensation in your chest that just won't seem to go away. If this happens occasionally, then you're probably just suffering from a case of indigestion. Perhaps you should've rested a while after eating before rushing back to work. However, if you've been having the same experience over a prolonged period, then chances are you're suffering from GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
Acid reflux occurs when your stomach acid flows backward into your esophagus. The latter serves as the connective passage between your stomach and your throat. Imagine a ring-like muscle where the end of your esophagus and stomach meet. This is your lower esophageal sphincter. Normally, it should prevent any stomach contents from rising back to your esophagus. The reverse flowing of acid happens when the sphincter muscle located at the lower esophageal area relaxes at the wrong moment. Another reason is that the muscle is weak. The untimely opening of this valve enables stomach acid to flow backward to the esophagus. When this happens, you experience a burning feeling in your chest (heartburn) and other symptoms.
How can you tell if you're suffering from GERD or if you just need to slow the pace of your eating? When you experience acid reflux and heartburn at least two times a week and the backflow of acid causes significant irritation to your esophageal lining, that's when your physician would diagnose it as GERD. Even so, before a checkup, there are ways to know if the cold feeling in throat that you're having is possibly from GERD. The next time you experience that unexplainable cold sensation, try looking for the presence of these other symptoms:
- Pain in the chest: You're having this because of all that acid splashing back into your esophagus. Stay calm. This doesn't mean you're having a heart attack.
- Regurgitation: Along with the cold feeling in your throat, you might experience a bitter or a sour taste in your mouth.
- Discomfort after mealtime: Does the cold sensation in your throat come after you've eaten a huge, fatty meal?
- Hoarseness: Some individuals suffering from GERD experience hoarseness in the throat and then dismiss it as part of the onset of a common cold. In GERD, however, the hoarseness is brought about by the leaking of the corrosive stomach acids into the vocal cords and thus, causing irritation.
- Unpleasant Breath Odor: This is due to the acid and regurgitated partially digested food contents.
- Sore Throat: This symptom can easily be dismissed as a result of seasonal allergies or the common cold. In GERD, however, sore throat results from the non-stop irritation brought about by the frequent contact between your stomach acid and your throat. So before you attribute the soreness of your throat to influenza, check first whether you've also developed other symptoms related to colds.
- Coughing: Coughing and wheezing aren't always due to respiratory causes. At times, it can also be caused by the abnormal presence of stomach acid in your lungs.
- Difficulty swallowing: The never-ending pattern of irritation, damage, and recovery can leave scars in your esophagus. This results to thick esophageal tissues which in turn, narrows your esophagus. This will cause difficulty in the passage of food.
- Choking: There may be times when the acid backflow reaches your throat and creates a sensation that's similar to choking. This and the cold feeling at the back of your throat may happen while you're sleeping.
Consult with your doctor the next time you experience a cold feeling in throat which is accompanied by any of the symptoms mentioned above. The early detection and treatment of GERD is important. Otherwise, it will lead to complications such as Esophagitis. The latter refers to the agonizing irritation of the esophagus which can consequently lead to ulceration, bleeding, and scarring.
Individuals who suffer from GERD without being diagnosed and treated may end up having Barrett's Esophagus. As previously mentioned, the regurgitated acid in your stomach wears away the tissues in the esophagus. Eventually, the tissues self-heal. However, the repeated cycle of erosion and repair causes changes in the newly regenerated cells. They become rather similar to intestinal cells. This change in the cellular structure puts the individual at risk for developing a fatal cancer called Esophageal Adenocarcinoma.
So what do you do when the cold feeling in throat that you're having is related to GERD? The first step would be to make basic lifestyle changes. If you're overweight, exercise. That said, refrain from working out after having your meals. Give your body time to digest the food for a couple of hours or more. Try not to eat heavy meals before bedtime. Have dinner at least three hours prior to hitting the sack. Likewise, refrain from lying down after eating during the day. Having frequent meals consisting of small portions instead of three large ones per day will help minimize acid reflux. Drinking plenty of water will also aid in minimizing the symptoms.
Stay away from foods that can trigger acid regurgitation and heartburn. These include tomatoes, onion, garlic, oranges and other citrus fruits, citrus juices, chocolate, peppermint, deep-fried food items, greasy foods, salty foods, and carbonated beverages. Limit your intake of alcohol. Avoid putting too much spice in your recipes. If you're a coffee drinker, understand that even a cup of decaf can prompt acid reflux. Note that different foods may trigger GERD in different individuals. If you're not eating any of the mentioned foods but still having a cold sensation in your throat, then keeping a food journal is advised. This way, you can easily track down the possible culprit for the coldness in your throat.
If the cold feeling in your throat wakes you up at night, try elevating the head of your bed. However, don't do this by piling up pillows. Doing so will only place your head at an angle that will add more pressure to your stomach. Instead, use six-inch blocks beneath the bed posts at the upper part of your bed. Coolness in the throat associated with GERD is also frequently experienced by smokers. The irritants in tobacco weaken your lower esophageal sphincter so consider quitting this unhealthy habit.
If the cold feeling in throat is really bothering you, there are certain natural remedies that you can take. These include extract of slippery elm. For centuries, this herb has been used to soothe inflammation and minimize swelling in tissues. It also helps to hasten the repair of damaged tissues. Slippery elm extract has a thickening effect on the mucous lining. Hence, it creates a more powerful barrier against stomach acid. For some people, chewing a non-mint flavored gum helps get rid of the cool sensation in the throat associated with GERD. It works by forcing fluids back into the stomach. More than that, saliva is alkaline and therefore, it helps to neutralize the irritating stomach acids.
Some chronic sufferers of GERD may take OTC antacids to help neutralize stomach acids. If these don't work, the doctor may prescribe H2 blockers/inhibitors such as Pepcid, Tagamet, or Zantac. If the symptoms continue to occur, proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid, Omeprazole, or Nexium may be prescribed. The last resort for GERD is surgery. This is done when the person has begun to suffer from esophagitis and other severe complications related to GERD.
Additionally, acid reflux is common in women who are pregnant. This means having a cool sensation at the back of your throat during pregnancy is perfectly fine. When it becomes too bothersome, talk to your OB about the possibility of taking OTC meds. Some expecting mothers find relief from papaya enzyme tablets. Others swear by sucking on slippery elm pastilles.
When to Consult Your Doctor
A cold feeling in throat does not necessarily warrant emergency care. However, if you also find yourself losing weight, having difficulty breathing, vomiting, yielding bloody stools or stools that are darker than usual, or needing to take OTC antacids too frequently, then it would be best to visit or call your doctor immediately.
Coldness in the Throat Related to LPR, or Silent Reflux
So what if you've been having a cold feeling in throat without most of the major symptoms which accompany GERD? It could be that you're suffering from an entirely different condition which is called Laryngopharyngeal Reflux or LPR. In a lot of ways, LPR can be quite similar to GERD. That is, except for the presence of GERD's definitive symptom which is heartburn. It is for this reason why LPR is also referred to as Silent Reflux.
Overall, there are two muscle sphincters at both ends of your esophagus. A malfunction in either of these sphincters causes the stomach acid to flow back up toward your pharynx (aka your throat) or your larynx (aka your voice box). The acid could even flow further back up to reach your nasal airways. The harsh stomach acid inevitably causes damage to the tissues of whichever areas it passes through.
LPR occurs commonly in infants. That's because they spend most of their time lying down and because their sphincters are not yet fully developed. Furthermore, their esophagus are so much shorter. Unfortunately, the causes of LPR in adults are still unknown. The next time you feel a cold feeling in your throat, try looking for the following symptoms to know if you have LPR.
Both GERD and LPR
Struggle with gaining weight
A hoarseness in your voice
Trouble inhaling food
A barking cough which persists over a long period
When you're clearing your throat too frequently
Noisy breathing/ snoring
Fluid in the middle ear
Excessive mucus in throat
A feeling that there's a lump in your throat that won't go away despite frequent swallowing
If the cold feeling in throat that you're having is accompanied by any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult your doctor. Your physician can make a diagnosis of LPR only after conducting a physical exam, gathering your medical history, and conducting either or both pH monitoring and/or an endoscopic exam.
When stomach acid continues to accumulate in your throat and in your voice box, it can bring about long-term damage. Scarring may occur. As in GERD, this places you at risk for developing cancer in the affected regions. Furthermore, silent reflux can worsen respiratory conditions like bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.
If the coolness in your throat is brought about by this condition, try eating smaller and more frequent meals. If you're a smoker and/or a drinker, consider dropping the bad habits. If necessary, lose weight. Minimize your consumption of all foods associated with GERD. Also, avoid wearing clothing that's too tight around the waist area. Wear loose nightclothes when sleeping.
Your physician might prescribe proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers, or antacids depending on how similar your symptoms are to those of GERD's. You may also be prescribed some Prokinetic agents that help boost the forward motion of the gastrointestinal tract and improve the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. Sucralfate may be ordered by your doctor for the protection of damaged mucus membranes.
Most sufferers of LPR notice improvements in their condition after doing some simple lifestyle changes. However, for recurring symptoms, surgery may be performed. One type of surgical operation done for the treatment of silent reflux is fundoplication. In this procedure, the upper area of the stomach is wrapped around the inferior area of the esophagus with the aim of creating a more powerful sphincter. Another laparoscopic procedure involves externally surrounding the lower esophagus with a ring of titanium beads so as to reinforce the sphincter.
Coldness in the Throat Related to Anxiety
Experiencing a cold feeling in throat doesn't always mean that the cause is physiological. The symptom may also be brought about by psychological causes. Anxiety has an effect on every single part of your body. This includes your esophagus. In anxiety, esophageal issues can either be actual or perceived. Sometimes, the problems in your esophagus and your throat are not really brought about by existing physical problems but are instead a product of perceptions dependent on the way your brain interprets information. This doesn't mean that you're just imagining that cold feeling in your throat! The thing about anxiety is that whether these symptoms are real or imagined, they end up triggering a series of other somatic symptoms. In other words, your brain may be imagining that there's something wrong with your esophageal passageway and thus, a symptom like a cold sensation in the throat is triggered.
On the other hand, some very real changes may be happening in your esophagus as a result of anxiety. This includes acid reflux. While anxiety does not bring about acid reflux per se, it does aggravate acid reflux symptoms. It could be that you're already suffering from a mild case of GERD but your current anxious state increases the volume of gastric acids and therefore, triggering more serious GERD symptoms. The more you feel your GERD symptoms, the more your anxiety increases. This means you end up triggering even more symptoms like an increase in heart rate and chest pain. And so the cycle goes on and on.
As previously stated, it is possible that the cold feeling in throat that you're experiencing isn't brought about by a real esophageal disturbance. Instead, it is merely caused by a perceived esophageal problem. How does this happen?
Hypersensitivity: Individuals suffering from anxiety tend to be more sensitive with the things going on in their bodies. They notice every little thing and obsess on each less-than-pleasant sensation that they feel. What happens is that they get to sense things which they never would've noticed without anxiety. Here's a clearer example: When a typical person eats, he wouldn't think too much about the sensation of the food travelling down his gullet. On the other hand, the brain of a person suffering from anxiety will actually sense the food being in the esophagus. It may feel like the morsels are stuck in there. There's nothing really wrong with your health but you end up noticing this minimal discomfort and feeling it way more than you should.
Hyperawareness: A person suffering from anxiety will have a heightened consciousness of normal body movements. Breathing, for instance, is normally done unconsciously. However, a person with anxiety will feel as though he is breathing manually. He may feel that if he doesn't make an effort to inhale and exhale, his breathing will stop altogether. Likewise, an individual suffering from anxiety will experience problems in the throat like trouble swallowing their food or trouble keeping food down. In other words, stuff like this can happen if your brain hands over too much conscious control on what should've been automatic bodily functions.
Hypersensitivity and hyperawareness are not fatal. They don't really alter your state of health. They are merely the result of your body misapprehending things which are naturally occurring within you. The same goes with the cold feeling in throat which you may experience persistently or even awaken you in your sleep. Even so, keep in mind that anxiety can weaken your immune system. Therefore, what might've begun as an imaginary somatic condition may turn into a full-blown physical illness.
So what should you do next? The smartest thing to do would be to consult a doctor to rule out GERD and LPR. Only then can you be sure that the cold sensation at the back of your throat is merely brought about by anxiety.
The next time you feel the coolness in your throat, stop whatever it is that you're doing and calm down. Perform deep breathing exercises. Mentally step back from the scenario and from a rational standpoint, analyze the situation that you're in. Ask yourself the following questions: Why am I anxious? Is my anxiety proportional to the situation?
Another technique would be to mentally count from one to ten. When faced with a stressful situation, ask yourself: Is it something that I can control? If yes, concentrate on the solution. If not, let go. Manage your expectations of life and of the people around you. Find someone you can trust and talk to. This could be a friend or a professional.
Engage in relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, massage, and listening to soft music. Minimize your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and stimulant drugs. Make sure that you get sufficient sleep. Stay fit through exercise and a balanced diet.
It is necessary that you pinpoint the causes of your anxiety. Start a journal. The next time you feel a cold feeling in throat for no reason at all, write down what could've triggered it. By identifying potential stressors, you can modify your lifestyle so that you can either eliminate them from your life or minimize your exposure to them.
Now that you know all that you need to know about the cold feeling in throat that you've been having, try answering the following question:
What should you not do when you feel a cold sensation in your throat?
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