People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may have difficulty swallowing food and liquids. This can feel like having food stuck or a lump in the throat.

GERD can present with various symptoms, including painful swallowing and difficulty swallowing.

It may also cause a painless sensation of a lump in the throat, despite the lack of a physical obstruction.

This article aims to answer whether GERD can cause food to become stuck in the throat or a sensation of it. It also explains how to dislodge stuck food or get rid of the feeling.

A person holding their throat while looking uncomfortable. GERD can cause a feeling of something stuck in the throat.Share on Pinterest
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Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is one of the possible symptoms of GERD. It can cause a sensation that food or liquid is stuck in the throat or chest.

GERD may cause a number of problems that can lead to dysphagia. We explore these in more detail below.

Narrowing of the upper esophagus

People with GERD may experience long-term stomach acid exposure in their upper esophageal sphincter (UES) due to acid reflux. The UES is a muscular valve at the top of the esophagus — a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

Long-term acid exposure can cause the UES and areas of the esophagus to stiffen and narrow. This may lead to dysphagia, as it takes longer for food to pass through the UES and the esophagus.

Esophagus movement problems

GERD can disrupt the movement of food through the esophagus to the stomach. This movement relies on the contraction of two muscles, the UES and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and a coordinated movement of all the muscles that line the esophagus.

Changes to these muscles can occur with GERD, which may cause difficulty swallowing and food to pass through the esophagus more slowly.

Studies suggest that GERD may also trigger the development of achalasia. This is a disorder that features nonrelaxation of the LES and defective movement of the esophagus.

Regurgitation and dysphagia are the most common symptoms of achalasia. Most people with the condition find it difficult to swallow solids initially, and as it progresses, liquids.

Globus sensation, or globus pharyngeus, is a feeling of having a foreign body or lump in the throat that may come with a choking or tightening feeling.

This is a common symptom of GERD, and recent evidence suggests that GERD may be the primary cause.

Experts suggest that GERD may cause globus sensation because when acid reflux reaches the UES, this can lead to increased UES stiffness. They also suggest globus sensation may occur as a result of the irritation and inflammation of laryngeal tissue.

GERD may also be the cause of nonobstructive dysphagia, which is the sensation that food is stuck in the throat without the presence of anything actually obstructing it.

The two most common symptoms of GERD are heartburn and regurgitation.

Heartburn is a burning feeling in the middle of the chest, rising from the breastbone toward the throat. Regurgitation is a person’s stomach contents coming up through the esophagus into the throat or mouth.

Other symptoms include:

Large food particles can get stuck in the esophagus. In some cases, healthcare professionals remove them via an endoscopy, which is a procedure where a doctor passes a small camera into the mouth and throat to examine it.

In some people, foods pass spontaneously. In others, further treatment is necessary.

Research suggests that drinking aerated or carbonated drinks such as cola is effective for treating food stuck in a person’s esophagus.

Other tips that can help dislodge stuck food include eating soft foods or drinking fluids to lubricate the food. A person can also take effervescent agents such as sodium bicarbonate and simethicone.

Learn more about what to drink when you have acid reflux here.

There are no medications to treat globus sensation, but a person should resist the urge to clear the throat or dry swallow. Instead, they can sip chilled carbonated water whenever they feel the urge to clear their throat.

Vocal hygiene may also help. This includes:

If a person experiences symptoms of GERD along with globus sensation, they should seek advice from a healthcare professional to prevent further complications.

They may start taking over-the-counter medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, or proton-pump inhibitors in the meantime.

The first-line treatment for GERD is making lifestyle modifications. These include:

  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • maintaining good sleep hygiene
  • avoiding eating at least three hours before bedtime
  • sleeping with the head elevated
  • making diet changes, including the elimination of caffeine and spicy foods

Learn more about GERD diet here.

Healthcare professionals may prescribe medications to people who do not respond to lifestyle changes. These include:

Surgical interventions may be necessary for people who experience side effects from medical therapy or want to discontinue long-term medical treatment.

Learn more about surgery for GERD here.

If a person experiences difficulty swallowing or the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat, they may be concerned.

It is important to speak with a healthcare professional so they can identify any potential underlying causes, such as GERD, and prevent serious complications that may occur from difficulty swallowing.

People should visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible if they experience any of these symptoms:

  • presence of drooling and inability to swallow anything
  • problems with nerves or brain function, indicated by muscle weakness
  • recurrent aspiration pneumonia
  • weight loss due to dysphagia

GERD is a condition where stomach acid flows up into the esophagus. This may cause various symptoms, including the sensation of having food or a lump stuck in the throat. GERD can also cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).

Drinking fluids such as carbonated drinks or eating soft foods may help dislodge food in the throat. If globus sensation is also present, reassurance is often enough, but doctors may also recommend vocal hygiene and medications.

The best way to manage these sensations is to treat GERD. Lifestyle modifications such as keeping a healthy weight and avoiding certain foods can be sufficient to prevent symptoms. However, medications or surgery may sometimes be necessary.