The condition is known as “cricopharyngeal spasm” refers to the hyper-contraction state of the cricopharyngeus. This condition, in turn, gives rise to the sensation of having a “lump in the throat.”
The symptoms of this condition often cause plenty of worry due to its similarity with throat cancer. This leads to anxiety and the aggravation of the problem with it. However, the primary differentiating factor is that while the ingestion of food becomes very difficult with throat cancer, it is instead a relieving process during cricopharyngeal spasms.
Furthermore, cricopharyngeal spasms are a harmless and self-limiting abnormality that usually heals by itself. This is understood well after a clear diagnosis of the disorder.
The worst aspect of this abnormality is the huge discomfort that is typically enhanced by anxiety, stress and the onset of the evening.
In this article, you can find a description of the causes, symptoms and medical and natural treatments for cricopharyngeal spasms.
Before getting into details about cricopharyngeal spasms, it is important that we know what is the cricopharyngeus exactly.
The cricopharyngeus is a muscle. It is also known as the upper esophageal sphincter as its ring-like shape surrounds the upper-most end of the esophagus.
The esophagus is the tubular organ that connects the mouth and the stomach. The food and liquids pass through this structure to reach the interior of the body before taking part in metabolic processes.
The cricopharyngeus is constantly in a state of contraction to keep the entrance to the esophagus closed. It is only during swallowing that it temporarily relaxes to let the food or fluids pass through and travel to the stomach.
In some cases, the normal contraction of the cricopharyngeus becomes a spasm. This is what describes the condition named as “cricopharyngeal spasm.”
CRYCOPHARYNGEAL SPASMS PHYSIOLOGY – WHAT HAPPENS?
Cricopharyngeal spasms occur when the normal contracted state of the cricopharyngeus is altered into convulsive seizures or spasms. The cricopharyngeus is excessively contracted. However, it still relaxes during swallowing without disturbing the process. Only in some cases, difficulty in swallowing saliva have been reported.
The person suffering from cricopharyngeal spasms will experience the hypertonic state of the cricopharyngeus as a permanent lump at the back of the throat. This may lead to the misconception of having throat cancer, which is just a misunderstanding in most of the cases.
The cricopharyngeal spasm produces an uncomfortable and alarming feeling, but it is not harmful, and it is often corrected by itself in a varying period that may last several months.
Also, it responds quite well to natural remedies, relaxation techniques, stress control therapies and eating certain kinds of food. These measures also help in preventing its recurrence.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
The main sign of a cricopharyngeal spasm is the recurrent feeling of having a foreign body in the throat, similar to a lump.
The various symptoms experienced during a cricopharyngeal spasm are:
1. The intermittent sensation of a lump:
The person feels like there is something like a ball or phlegm accumulation stuck in their throat that they can’t spit out. This lump is said to be present at the cricoid cartilage level. The intensity of the lumpy feeling is not always the same, it decreases and increases irregularly within hours and days. It usually worsens from evening to night.
2. The sense of constriction or choking:
The feeling of having something stuck in the throat leads to experiencing a compression or choking sensation.
3. Difficulty in swallowing saliva:
During the swallowing of food, the cricopharyngeus relaxes as usual and lets it pass through the throat, and sometimes it momentarily alleviates the feeling of the lump. However, swallowing of saliva becomes difficult or painful.
4. Throat pain:
The sensation of a strange body in the throat, the persistent contractions, and the difficulty in swallowing saliva lead to discomfort and occasional or constant pain in the throat.
5. Swelling of the throat:
The symptoms are often accompanied by the sensation of throat swelling or inflammation.
6. Worsening of the symptoms in the evening:
As the day progresses, so does the intensity of the symptoms.
7. Worsening of symptoms with stress:
Anxiety often causes muscle contraction, hence feeling stressed, worried or nervous might increase the contraction of the cricopharyngeus and worsen the spasms. Anxiety might be a cause as well as a consequence of having this condition, which starts a vicious circle that will only aggravate the problem.
Causes Of Cricopharyngeal Spasm
The esophagus is a tube-like organ that connects the throat and the stomach. The two valves on its uppermost end are usually in a state of contraction, and they relax only to let liquid and food pass from the mouth to the stomach. They immediately contract again to prevent these contents from flowing back into the mouth.
Disruptions in the function of these valves result in malfunctions and abnormalities such as a lumpy feeling in the throat or spasms.
Cricopharyngeal spasms can frequently be caused due to anxiety and stress. Sometimes it is triggered by certain foods like nuts such as peanuts or pumpkin seeds. These substances might produce allergic reactions.
The commonly known causes of cricopharyngeal spasms include:
a. Certain food items:
Among foods that are suspected to trigger cricopharyngeal spasms are nuts like peanuts and pumpkin seeds. They can also cause allergies among other symptoms in susceptible individuals.
b. Excessively high amounts of stress, anxiety, and negative emotions:
These cause contraction of the muscles, including the cricopharyngeus. This leads to the spasms. Even when they are not the cause of the occurrence of cricopharyngeal spams, they can be the cause of their recurrence or aggravation. Handling of these emotions is very necessary for the prevention and recovery from the spasms.
Home Remedies For Cricopharyngeal Spasm
The cricopharyngeal spasm can affect many aspects of someone’s life, especially if it lasts for several days, weeks or months. The anxiety produced by this condition will only add stress and make the situation worse both physically and psychologically.
Some home remedies can help in reducing the stress and anxiety levels, thus solving the problem from its root.
The home remedies that can be used for treating cricopharyngeal spasm include:
This is a herb that has been traditionally used as a natural antidote to depression and aging in the arctic regions of Europe and Asia, especially Russia. It typically grows in cold conditions such as mountains and marine cliffs. Some of the benefits of this plant on the human body include relief from stress and tension, improving the mood, enhancing the nervous system health, lowering the blood pressure, and slowing down the heart rate.
With these features, Rhodiola can easily help in reducing the discomfort, pain, and constriction in the throat and lead to the healing of cricopharyngeal spasm. Its extracts are available in the form of teabags or tea powder and capsules.
2. HERBAL TEAS:
The intake of warm fluids can soothe the constraint sensation in the throat. Teas made of herbs provide more benefit due to the presence of active ingredients of plants that have calming properties combined with the warmth of the boiled water.
Plants like valerian, chamomile, linden tree, lemon balm, passionflower, and ginseng are particularly beneficial due to their soothing properties. It is essential that the temperature of any fluid is not too cold nor too cold, as this could hurt the internal muscles.
3. VITAMIN B:
Vitamins are essential for the normal functioning of our body. They promote good health, which includes an excellent mental and emotional state. Vitamin B complex is a vitamin that is mainly known for eliminating mood swings, among other benefits.
This vitamin helps in diminishing the sensations of tiredness, stress, and depression and contributes to the relief of cricopharyngeal spasm as soon as it is assimilated and processed by the body. Natural sources of vitamin B are legumes, whole grains, potatoes, chili peppers, yeast, molasses, bananas, etc.
4. OTHER NATURAL REMEDIES:
These include heating pads and relaxation therapies, which have been explained above. The physician might recommend these or used by the patients in the comfort of their own home.
Cricopharyngeal spasm ultimately disappears this time. Remedies and treatments help in dealing with the symptoms produced by it while it lasts.
Medical Treatment Available For Cricopharyngeal Spasm
Getting a diagnosis done is frequently the commencement of the resolution of this problem. When the patient learns that the probability of something as serious as throat cancer is ruled out, the anxiety levels come down considerably.
The feeling of relief helps the muscles relax and thus, the symptoms of the cricopharyngeal spasms start to mitigate. Breathing therapies and relaxation techniques might help in completely curing the disorder in a matter of few weeks.
Sometimes, eating different kinds of foods can also prove beneficial to reduce the discomfort in the throat.
It is important to note that the healing of cricopharyngeal spasms should start from within the body itself; there is no particular external method or drug to fix it.
However, when the problem is persistent, the physician might recommend various treatment methods for partial relief such as:
- Neck relaxation and breathing exercises supervised by a specialized therapist.
- Stress reduction techniques and relaxation therapies: They help in muscle relaxation in a natural way and alleviate the uncomfortable lumpy sensation in the throat.
- Warm fluids: Swallowing warm fluids can also help in easing the process of swallowing and mitigating discomfort in the region. Fluids also help in maintaining the throat hydrated.
- Application of heat: Keeping a heating pad or warm compresses on the throat for a couple of minutes can have a soothing effect on the muscles and make them relax. However, these should not be applied for more than two to three minutes.
- Muscle relaxants: Chemical substances that relax the smooth muscles of the throat include benzodiazepines like Valium (Diazepam) or Ativan (Lorazepam). These have an effect on the muscle contractions making them slow down or preventing them from happening. They may also cause addiction in some people.
- Injections: Botox injections and local anesthetic injections disable the muscle and provide temporary relief from the spasms. Their effect remains from three to four months. They are used specially in cases in which the spams last for a prolonged time.
- Surgical reconstruction: This is performed only chronic cases in which the muscle has been damaged or deteriorated.
The treatment prescribed by a professional differs depending on various factors such as the duration of the symptoms, the levels of stress, the age of the patient and the medical history.
For example, surgeries are done exclusively in chronic conditions and the use of benzodiazepines is restricted to severe cases, as these drugs are known to have addictive properties and side effects.
If they suit the patient, they help in relaxation of the contracted muscles, and they decrease the frequency of the spasms. Formerly, in cases in which stress is the main culprit, the treatment is made to focus on relaxation exercises under the guidance of a trained physiotherapist.
Sometimes the patient might be asked to take daily notes indicating the timings and frequency of the spasm to determine which treatment would suit it the best.