So what’s the deal about clearing an itchy throat? I’ve heard that its “bad” to clear your throat with an “Ahem!” – is that really true?
Occasional throat clearing, used to dislodge mucus from the throat or vocal folds, is not harmful. When throat clearing becomes habitual however, there is a concern that forcefully grinding the vocal folds together may cause some damage. This damage is usually not on the soft membranous part of the vocal folds (the part that vibrates with singing), but toward the back, where the folds consist of a thin membrane covering firm cartilage. Excessive rubbing here can damage the mucous membrane and expose the cartilage, causing irritation, pain and inflammatory tissue formation.
I would suggest that you try to find out why you need to habitually clear your throat – allergies, reflux, or a nervous habit? Consider food sensitivities, especially a dairy allergy, or excessive sweets. Any of these may cause mucus to thicken and adhere to your vocal folds. Then, by addressing the various possible causes, you may be able to get rid of potentially harmful chronic clearing.
-Anthony F. Jahn, MD, FACS, FRCS(C)
This discussion is for general information and not to be construed as specific medical advice that you should obtain from your own physician.
Dr. Jahn is an internationally renowned otolaryngologist based in Manhattan with a sub-specialty interest in the professional voice. His practice includes classical and popular singers. He holds academic appointments at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He is Medical Director at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and former Director of Medical Services at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Dr. Jahn has published several books for vocalists, including “Vocal Heath for Singers” (Singdaptive) and “The Singer’s Guide to Complete Health” (Oxford University Press).