Globus Sensation–Expel the Lump in Your Throat

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That sensation that has you constantly needing to clear your throat may be an age old malady appropriately dubbed “lump in throat.”

Have you ever experienced a prolonged feeling of a foreign body in your throat—a painless physical obstruction of some sort with a tight or choking sensation? Rest assured, you are not alone.

A Natural Approach to a Seemingly Mysterious Disorder

According to a publication in the British Journal of General Practice, up to 45 percent of the global population suffer with you and tolerate the disorder that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with a frequent need to cough, swallow, or clear your throat.

The condition goes by many names. Western medicine refers to it as globus hystericus, globus pharyngeus, globus sensation, or simply “lump in throat.” Traditional Chinese medicine calls it “plum pit throat” or “plum pit qi.”

Causes for the disorder seem as manifold as its names—stuck qi or phlegm, stress, a depressed state of life, fear or anxiety, gastro-esophageal reflux, post nasal drip or sinusitis—and those are only a few of the symptoms that can apparently cause the mysterious lump.

Tangible or Imaginary?

Hippocrates first wrote about “globus pharyngeus” around 2,500 years ago, and Chinese physician Zhang Zhongjing wrote about the condition in his famous work titled “Shang han za bing lun” (Treatise on Febrile and Other Diseases) in the third century.

To this day, however, the cause of the disorder is still not fully understood and cannot be properly explained to patients. Regularly, primary care physicians cannot physically locate the lump their patients are describing, and repeated ear, nose, throat (ENT) examinations do not reveal any causes.

A 2018 publication in the journal of the European Federation of Oto-Rhino-Laryngological Societies (EUFOS) confirms: “Although globus is a common symptom, only little is known about the etiology, and the causes have remained controversial.”
Controversial indeed, as research in the mid to late-20th century labeled globus sensation as a purely hysterical symptom, hence the unflattering title globus hystericus. Nowadays, however, “the research has been mainly focused on somatic causes and it is suspected that the etiology is complex,” declares the team of scientists.

Early Research and Treatment of Globus

Since the 1960s, researchers have wondered if the condition’s cause is organic or functional. A 1998 study in England’s Hospital Medicine continues that trend: “More than half of the sufferers are overtly depressed [but] only a handful have hysterical personality. It is argued that it might be more appropriately viewed as a psychophysiological symptom of depression that responds to antidepressant treatment.”

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Indeed, literature across the board (and across the decades) mentions the connection between the “lump in throat” feeling and both physical and mental-emotional signs of stress. This can include grief or sorrow over the loss of a loved one, just as much as fear, nervousness, or anxiety over a professional transition at the workplace, for instance.

Modern Approaches

More modern research finds globus hystericus connected to a bacterial infection with Helicobacter pylori, as published in an article in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology. In the study, 123 patients with a globus-feeling were observed and 75 (60 percent) of them tested positive for the bacteria. A significant amount of these individuals also suffered from reflux, regurgitation, or other upper esophageal symptoms.

As a “common chronic disorder in industrialized countries,” gastroesophageal reflux disease is another connection and has, according to a 2019 paper, globus sensation listed as one of its symptoms.
The possibly newest technique to diagnose globus or its causes is cervical ultrasonography. The team of scientists claims that this method of examination “identified thyroid disorders in patients with globus sensation, despite the normal ENT status. Therefore, it would be appropriate to adopt cervical ultrasonography as a routine examination at ENT clinics for patients with globus sensation.”
In primary care practices, doctors most frequently use the Glasgow-Edinburgh Throat Scale in attempts to diagnose their patients or gauge the severity of the disorder. Recent studies—2018 in Japan and 2020 in Turkey—proved the scale as a valuable resource and confirmed its validity in cross-cultural adaptation worldwide.
Nevertheless, all efforts of modern research fall short of a definite explanation of globus sensation and its cause, as a 2018 Chinese study relates to the more traditional views of the disorder: “[…] up to 96% of globus patients report symptom exacerbation during periods of high emotional intensity.”

During that research, 3,360 individuals from urban and rural areas were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their experience and symptoms of globus pharyngeus “The incidences and severity of anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders were significantly higher among patients who presented with globus in the urban area than among those in the rural area,” the results of the Chinese research team found.

Natural Management Techniques

Given the history in research and decades of scientific dubiety regarding globus sensation, it seems reasonable to estimate that a high percentage of individuals who suffer from the condition could benefit from employing self-help techniques.

The following is a compilation of ways to lower your stress level, strengthen your nervous system, or employ natural herbs and remedies to “calm the spirit” as traditional Chinese medicine would refer to.

Herbal Remedies

Traditional Chinese medicine sees “plum pit throat” or “plum pit qi” as a condition of stuck qi or phlegm or an overproduction of the latter. As a remedy, the qi should be activated and phlegm be dissolved.

The American Herbalist Guild supports a 6-page paper in which author Jessica Baker outlines the following recipe for globus sensation:

Ban Xia Huo Po Tang (Pinellia & Magnolia Decoction)*

“Ingredients:

  • Ban Xia (Pinellia ternata) 9–12 grams
  • Hou Po (Magnolia officinalis) 9 grams
  • Zi Su Ye (Perilla frutesens) 6 grams
  • Fu Ling (Poria cocos) 12 grams
  • Sheng Jiang (Zingiber officinale) 15 grams

“Modifications [to the base recipe]:

  • With more phlegm and saliva, add Chen Pi and Gan Cao
  • With palpitations and insomnia, add Gan Mai Da Zao Tang
  • With severe qi stagnation, add Xiang Fu and Yu Jin

“… cook ingredients in 7 cups of water, reduce to 4 cups. Take the warm, strained decoction in four equal doses, three times during the day and one time at night.”

Note: For all individualized herbal recommendations and dosages, please consult with your local herbalist.

The Ban Xia Houpu decoction is also a topic of a paper released in 2010 by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The research team points to the elixir’s therapeutic value regarding globus hystericus and explains further, “Its mechanism may be related to its function in relieving depression and anxiety and regulating the psychological state.”
Japanese traditional medicine features the same herbal extraction for the obstructive sensation in the throat. The only difference is the name: Hangekobokuto “is well-known in North-East Asia for its effective treatment of psychological characteristics, stress and pressure of psychiatric disorder as well as bronchial asthma and impairment of swallowing reflex,” states an article in Biomedical Reports.

Home-Grown Applications

Similarly, Western herbal medicine also has a list of phytomedicinals to treat globus sensations. These plants may sound less “foreign” to you and, most likely, are much easier to source. In fact, you may even have some of them growing in your garden, tucked aside in your medicine cabinet, or on your tea rack.

• Passionflower—helps eliminate tension that is stored in the esophagus.
• Linden.
• Hops.
• Chamomile.
• Lemon balm.

Passionflower and chamomile are two of the featured herbs in a 2022 study published in the journal Pharmacological Research. Amongst other herbs, the duo shows promising results for the treatment of anxiety disorders. In addition to positive results in treating anxiety, chamomile has also been shown to be a useful herbal remedy for depression.
Passionflower and hops have proven to be successful in the management of insomnia related to anxiety. In a 2021 paper in Planta Medica, a compilation of “PubMed, Scopus, and the Cochrane Library databases from 2010 to 2020,” found that passionflower and hops, in combination with valerian, were the “stars of the research” and showed “best results in clinical trials.”
As Linden flowers target both the respiratory tract (throat) and the nervous system, they are excellent herbal candidates for the treatment of globus sensation. Prepared as a tea, these petals make an outstanding non-narcotic sedative remedy to battle insomnia and anxiety, states the University of Texas El Paso on their website.
Hops and lemon balm “have consistently been shown in clinical trials to relieve mild forms of neurological disorders, particularly depression, anxiety, and stress,” the journal Molecules reports in a 2022 study about the herbs’ prevailing medicinal qualities.

Physical Exercises and Stretches

Remedies for globus pharyngeus are not limited to herbal teas and extractions. Other methods include:

  • Posture correction.
  • Shoulder stretch.
  • Chewing and yawning exercises.
  • Breathing exercises.

Note: Please consult your local chiropractor, physical therapist, or movement teacher for personalized exercises.

Lastly, experiencing restful sleep is extremely important in the treatment of globus sensation. This can be a bit of a catch-22, as insomnia is a symptom of the disorder. Such is depression, which according to Johns Hopkins Medicine is closely linked to sleeplessness.

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