What It Means When You Have A "Lump In Your Throat"

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.

You're getting to the good part of a Queer Eye episode when you start to feel unexpectedly emotional. Your eyes well up, your skin gets hot, and you feel a massive lump growing in your throat. You try to clear your throat and swallow, but then the tears just start flowing.

Whether you're openly happy crying watching TV or trying to keep it together while someone delivers sad news, chances are you've experienced this uncomfortable throat sensation before. If you cry a lot, it may stress you out to feel like you don't have control over your body's response to your emotions. But it turns out, this lump-in-the-throat feeling is normal, and not something you should fight.

The medical term for a lump in your throat is "globus pharyngeus," says Christopher Chang, MD, an otolaryngologist in Warrenton, VA. "The lump sensation is due to a muscle tightening up when sadness is being suppressed," he says. Normally, when you swallow, a muscle (called the cricopharyngeus) behind your voicebox relaxes, allowing food to freely pass from your mouth into your esophagus.

When you're stressed or upset, this muscle tightens, which causes the feeling of a ball or lump, Dr. Chang says. "Swallowing may also be difficult, as the muscle does not fully relax," he says. At the same time, your vocal chords will close up tight. "That's why a person's voice changes [when they're about to cry], and one can tell that someone is under extreme stress or sadness," he says.

For most people, the lump and tightness goes away as they start to cry. But sometimes, during periods of extreme stress (like while going through a breakup or studying for final exams), people report feeling a lump in their throat that lasts for weeks, he says.

According to Dr. Chang, the best thing you can do when you get a lump in your throat is just let yourself cry, rather than try to suppress it. If you find that you feel this way often, minimizing the amount of stress in your life can definitely help, too. That said, there are a few medical reasons why you may experience throat tightness that have nothing to do with sadness or crying, he says. For example, acid reflux can cause the cricopharyngeus to tighten up. It's worth it to talk to your doctor or see an ENT if that's something you deal with on the regular.

So, the next time you're choked up, don't fight the feeling and just let your tears happen. If, for some reason, you have to keep your composure, keep in mind that the lumpy feeling will pass with your emotions. And you're not weak just because you cry during a reality TV show — especially one as moving as Queer Eye.

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