Why do you sometimes get phantom feelings in your throat/oesophagus?

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You know when a pill goes down the wrong way and you chug heaps of water but you can still feel it lodged in your throat even though you know it’s not there? Or recently I had a stomach bug and I happened to have eaten noodles before the onset of vomiting and after my throwing my guts up I swear to god I had a noodle still lodged in my throat for hours afterward, despite trying to wash it down with plenty of water. Why? What causes this feeling? Trauma to the oesophagus? Some weird mind body miscommunication? Was there really a noodle stuck in my throat for half the night? Plz explain.

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Sometimes it is actually stuck – when this happens with pills it can be dangerous because some medications will do some real damage if they release in your esophagus. Even in medications where it’s less of a concern, it can lead to an excruciating condition called pill esophagitis and can even cause rupture, so a break or a leak in your esophagus. This will cause considerable pain and likely a fever and is a true medical emergency.

The reason this happens is partially the same reason you can get this phantom sensation if something was stuck initially but has since gone down. When something is stuck in your esophagus, your body alters its control of the sphincter between esophagus and stomach, causing stomach acid to wash up into the esophagus. Sometimes this may help dissolve whatever is stuck, but it will also start to do some damage to the esophagus, and acid can sort of be retained right around the stuck item. Then, even when the item is no longer stuck, you have an irritated esophagus with locally severe damage where the thing was stuck.

Add to this the fact that it’s not too hard to do mechanical damage to your esophagus, so if it’s something that isn’t soft or squishy you could even scrape your esophagus a little.

The final option is that sometimes it’s not related to anything being stuck at all. GERD, aka heartburn, can cause a symptom called globus sensation, or the sensation of having something stuck in your throat. Some sufferers will get globus sensation and not ever having the burning in your chest that’s considered a hallmark of heartburn. In those cases, it’s considered an atypical presentation of GERD.

If this is happening often, you may want to bring it up with your doctor! Something staying stuck can be an emergency, but even something basic like GERD should be treated before you do long-term damage to your esophagus and your teeth.

Doctor here—what you’re describing is called having a sensation of food stuck in your throat, or dysphagia. If it’s pretty rarely that it happens, I would speculate that it may just be slightly disordered esophageal motility and esophageal spasms from the muscles contracting a little differently after a lot of sudden movement (like with throwing up), but it can be a disorder if it happens more often, like an esophageal motility disorder or heartburn.

Here’s a source that explains some of the symptoms and conditions: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dysphagia/symptoms-causes/syc-20372028