Throat Cyst – Causes and Symptoms

It is common to get a cystic swelling in the throat. It may be symptomatic or accidentally found on routine examination.

What Is a Cyst?

A lump that has an outer covering, which contains some fluid, may be called a cyst. Cysts can be of different types, depending upon their tissue of origin such as sebaceous cysts etc.

They may occur anywhere on the body surface or inner epithelial covering of various structures.

Mostly, cysts are not symptomatic and don’t require any intervention. They are left as such. With time, they may slowly reduce in size, and eventually disappear on their own.

However, sometimes they do give symptoms.

Symptoms of Throat Cysts

A cyst inside the throat may cause difficulty in vital tasks such as breathing or swallowing food. It may produce an obstructive feeling.

Intervention is required if cyst gets complicated.

Common Complications

  • It may get infected.
  • It may grow to a large size and put pressure on surrounding tissues.
  • It may become cancerous, though this possibility is extremely rare.

Causes of Throat Cyst

Swollen Lymph Tissue

A lymphoid tissue is basically a cluster of small immune cells (lymphocytes and macrophages) covered by a connective tissue capsule. It captures viruses, allergens, bacteria and other invaders entering the body via throat.

Our neck is richly scattered with groups of lymphatic tissues e.g. under the chin, tonsils etc.

Whenever an infection enters our throat, these lymph cells become active and swell up. Any such swelling may present as a throat cyst. Such cysts are surrounded by areas of inflammation or redness. The patient also complains of present or past infection, pain in throat or difficulty in swallowing.

A Dermoid Cyst

This is present since birth, though usually too small to be noticed. It grows in size with increasing age.

Formation of a dermoid cyst is due to improper growth of skin layers during fetal development. Some embryonic skin cells get buried into the skin itself. They keep growing inside, to create a sac, which is filled with cells normally present in the skin. They may contain stuff such as hair follicles, sweat glands, sebaceous glands etc. These glands keep secreting their oily secretions, which get collected into the sac, creating a cyst that keeps growing in size with time.

Epidermoid Cysts

A cystic swelling on the neck is very likely to be an epidermoid cyst. Normally, the outermost cells of our skin exfoliates in normal course of time to be replaced by newer cells from within.

Sometimes, instead of shedding, the outermost epidermis cells move deeper inside and multiply, to form a cluster of cells. And hence a cyst is formed. These cells may secrete keratin into the cyst. This is a yellow pasty substance that sometimes drains from such cysts.

Schwannomas

Schwann cells provide covering to the nerves fibers. Abnormal growth of these cells form clusters leading to schwannomas. The nerves of the head and neck region are prone to the formation of schwannomas. These are cystic swellings present along the nerve.

A Swollen Salivary Gland

A swelling in front of the neck or behind the ears may be a swollen salivary glands. These glands may get swelled up due to various infections. Such a swelling may also be cystic in consistency.

A Sebaceous Cyst

Cystic swelling in the skin of the neck may be a sebaceous cyst, which is formed due to blocking of sebaceous glands in the skin. This cyst contains a pasty fluid called sebum.

Cyst From Thyroglossal Duct

Read more on thyroglossal cyst and its removal.

Lymphatic Malformation

These are called lymphangiomas. Lymphatic vessels are channels that return excess fluid from tissues to the venous system. Malformation of such channels in the throat area may present as a cystic swelling.

Laryngocele

Another cystic swelling is laryngocele, which presents as an outward bulge on the neck. This is an anomalous air sac which communicates with the cavity of the larynx.

Laryngocele is seen in people who are continually forcing their expiration, as in glassblowers. Forced expiration on a continuous basis builds an increased pressure in the larynx, that may result in laryngocele formation. This is also seen in patients with COPD.

Cancer

Lastly, a cystic swelling in the throat may be a malignancy originating from some throat tissue.

Management

Investigations are done in order to know the origin and nature of the cystic swelling. Details of CT scan and biopsy reveal the nature of the tissue.

Though it’s very unlikely for throat cysts to become cancerous, your doctor will probably like to see you again for a follow-up, just to make sure that the cyst doesn’t get complicated. If any complication is present, such as infection, cancer, or growth, he may need to intervene.

Treatment would depend upon the complication. It may be just draining out the cyst or even total excision.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Throat Cyst – Causes and Symptoms

  1. Debra

    I have had a cyst come up in my throat which is quite large. I am taking antibiotics. I have a 1 year old daughter so I am scared. How common is it to be cancer?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      There are many causes of throat cyst, many of which are benign. Cancer can be ruled out only by biopsy.

      Reply
  2. Megan

    I also found a cyst in my throat. I had an MRI but that showed nothing. I find mine very uncomfortable. They can’t remove it for 6 months.

    Should I be worried? I’m 28 year old female and I smoke and drink on weekends.

    Reply
  3. Landers

    My husband has a lump in his throat and he has been experiencing hoarseness.

    He has a biopsy next week. He was started on Prilosec. It has a smooth surface, which is better than a rugged surface. Any good news out of this?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Going purely by surface, smooth would be better than rugged or irregular surface. Still, the diagnosis rests upon the biopsy.

      Reply
  4. Gary

    Hi, I’m in the army. I realized that I had two cystic growths in my throat when I was in Afghanistan last year. At first I felt two lumps at the side of my throat and didn’t think of it as anything. As the weeks went by, my face started to grow extremely large. I was struggling to breathe, eat, sleep and drink.

    Could these have been due to the kind of working conditions I was working in? I would like to know this because I have put a claim in for compensation through the army. As a result of my operation, the right hand side of my mouth is permanently disfigured and the left hand side of my face is permanently numb. My jaw goes into jaw lock now and then. My jaw cracks a lot. I didn’t have any of theses problems before my operation.

    Could you let me know if the working conditions I was in could have cause these cystic growths?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Your condition requires a careful and detailed direct physical examination by a specialist doctor. Hence it would be a good idea to see your doctor and get yourself examined.

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      to Gary :Do not have a answer for your question, but it does sound as if work conditions played a part, but I am no doctor, but have a lot of medical experience. But anyways this struck my heart deeply and you will be in my prayers continuously.

      Reply
  5. Lydia

    I had ultra sound which showed a couple of masses in my throat. Blood work for thyroid was normal. Radioiodine CT showed normal uptake.

    CT with contrast still shows mass, possibly cyst. Doctor’s first thought is surgery. Is this the first choice, before aspirating to check fluid, as I currently have no discomfort.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It would be better to first ascertained the nature of the throat masses. Are they cystic, heterogeneous or solid? This would be helpful in reaching some diagnosis. For this, a needle biopsy is all that is required.

      How big are the masses? In case you have big sized masses, a single big mass may be removed surgically. Your doctor may excise it and then investigate it histopathologically to know the nature of all such masses present.

      Reply
  6. Priya

    I am 21 yr old woman. Four years ago, I found a disfigurement in my throat. Ultrasound concluded that it was a cyst. I don’t have any discomfort and it hasn’t grown much in size in these years. My doctor has suggested FNAC.

    However, I am a bit scared about this test as I have heard that needles cause these cysts to grow rapidly and the cyst could even turn cancerous. Is it true? Can I go for the test?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Since you were symptomless, you can even leave the cyst as such. Just be watchful that it doesn’t grow.

      Discuss with your doctor why he wants to get the FNAC done. FNAC is a biopsy taking technique. Fluid from the cystic swelling will be taken for detecting the nature of cells in it. From that, the doctor would deduce the nature of the cystic swelling, whether cancerous, lymphoid or thyroid in nature.

      The procedure would not cause cancer, though it may disturb the cyst.

      Reply
  7. Barbara

    I only have a small portion of my left thyroid since the rest had to be removed along with a large goiter. My thyroid has stopped working and I have gained a lot of weight.

    I was just diagnosed with a cyst in my throat. A biopsy is scheduled soon. What is your thoughts on this?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It may be a reactive lymphoid tissue in the throat. This may be in response to some chronic infection or irritation.

      Biopsy is certainly required to know its nature and rule out malignancy.

      Reply
  8. tushar

    I have cyst in my throat and all the test like US, FNAC, MRI have been done and my doctor is asking for operation but I am scared of the operation. Is there any other treatment for thyroglossal cyst? When I eat something, mucous comes from my throat and I have problem in breathing also.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Thyroglossal cyst is almost always treated by surgical excision. Though this is a simple and safe procedure, you need to get it done by an experienced surgeon.

      Excision is essential because there is no other way to get rid of the cyst. The cyst is fluid filled and if left untreated, it may lead to the following complications:

    2. Difficulty in breathing.
    3. Problem in swallowing
    4. It may get infected
    5. It may turn malignant (cancer)
    6. Read more about what a thyroglossal cyst is, and how is it treated.

      Reply
  9. Derek .o

    I have a cyst in my throat. I have a hard time swallowing but when I eat normal food, it makes me feel like I have food stuck in my throat. I’ve been on a soft diet since two weeks ago on Saturday. After I had a g.i. scope done, I thought I got my medicine stuck in my throat. Been to see an ENT. Said he’s not sure if the cyst is causing the feeling of food getting stuck in my throat, so he doesn’t know if I should do the surgery for it or not. I also have a small ulcer in my esophagus. Please help me I need some type of direction. Been freaking out and important so tired of this soft diet….signed hopeless.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Get treated for the esophageal ulcer first.

      None of the problems is an emergency, so we may deal with them one by one.

      What are you taking for your ulcer? There are medications available, you may talk to your doctor about it.

      It is very likely that all your symptoms are due to the ulcer alone. As it gets alright, your symptoms may go.

      Throat cysts cause problems in swallowing only if they are big in size.

      Reply
  10. Derek .o

    I’m taking omeprazole 2 20mg but I’m not eating and have lost close to 20 pounds on the soft diet. Any ideas.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Your weight loss is because of the reduced diet. That’s not desirable. You should be eating.

      Many people complain of loss of appetite with omeprazole. Talk to your doctor about this side effect and shifting you to some other medicine like ranitidine (Zantac).

      Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Yes, these medicines can be taken along. They work along to quicker the healing of the ulcer.

      Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It is suggested that you give it time. Let the ulcer medications act and show their effect. After that, the situation can be reviewed again.

      Reply
  11. Swarna

    My father has a cyst in his left vocal cord. We got to known about this just a week ago. Since five month my father had problem in talking. His voice wasn’t clear. He went to three-four ENT doctors for this problem but those doctor couldn’t trace the thing properly. Now we have consulted an experienced doctor who told us about this. First, he gave 15 days medicine to eat and asked us to consult him back. Now he said the cyst has been reduce to small size but need to do surgery as soon as possible. And also he told that he was unable to trace whether the cyst is cancerous or not. My father is totally scared after hearing the cancerous word. I don’t known what to do even I’m too scared. I just need a solution for this. Help me. And please tell me is there any complication in future once we do surgery.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It is very unlikely that the cyst turns out to be cancerous. This can be said because, it has reduced in size with the anti inflammatory medicines he took for 15 days.

      Still, in his age group, malignancies need to be ruled out. You may go for a surgery by an experienced doctor. Once excised surgically, this problem is unlikely to trouble you again.

      Reply
  12. Jolene

    Hey there. I have a small little “bubble” in my throat next to my right tonsil. If I mess with it with a Q-tip it feels sort of squishy. It moves around very easily and it doesn’t hurt at all. It is about .5 cm. It is the pretty much the same pink color as my throat (maybe a shade lighter). My dentist said that it didn’t look like a cancerous growth but given the location it didn’t really look normal either. He said if it was him, he would watch it for 3 or 4 months and then check it again. I asked if there was anything he could do for me (I was so freaked out that it might be cancer) and he said that he could do a brush biopsy. I still don’t have the results. I’m freaking out. I have 2 small little girls.
    Also I am 31 years old, F and I don’t smoke or drink at all.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It is extremely unlikely that the growth is cancerous. Your biopsy will soon confirm the results.

      Such abnormal growths may occur in the throat or other places of the GI tract. The whole tract is exposed to a lot of friction, chemical stimuli and infections throughout the day. It is difficult to pinpoint to what particular stimuli did the growth grow.

      It is better not to intervene, and be observant about the bubble growth for a few months. In all likelihood, it will start regressing on its own.

      Reply
  13. Emma

    Hi, I had a small lump internally, under my chin, it was sore to touch. I pushed down on it the other day and it felt and sounded like a large spot had popped. I am concerned as obviously whatever came out of it is inside me now, should I see a doctor? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      A sore lump, internally, under the chin is likely to be an enlarged lymph node. These are the submental group of lymph nodes.

      They may get enlarged in response to some infective cause in your mouth or throat area. This may be a mononucleosis infection, any infection of the throat or some dental infection.

      Do you have any other symptom, like tooth ache, sore throat, fever, earache etc.

      Reply
  14. Edna

    So, I went to my doctor and she felt my throat. She was worried it was my thyroid. So she sent me to get a ultrasound. And it ended up being a cyst. She didn’t tell me anything. And now, I have this weired pressure and it’s hard to breath. Should I get a second opinion?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      You need to go ahead with investigation and get this cyst diagnosed. This cystic lump could be a lymphoid tissue, sebaceous cyst or something else.

      Investigation would reveal it. Then, your doctor may start treating it.

      Reply
  15. Paula

    My husband is 53. He has had a biopsy for cysts in his throat. We were told that no follow-up was required. He has now received an appointment to see the consultant again. We are now concerned that he may have cancer. Could this be possible?

    Reply
  16. Felicia

    My husband has been diagnosed having a benign cyst 4cm X3cm in his throat. The location of it is in the middle of other organs. I am worried about the operation the surgeon is going to do. It will not be a key hole surgery. However, the surgeon said there is no urgency to remove it at this point. It had some infection and controlled by antibiotics recently. That was the time we found out it first.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      What is the nature of the cyst, the exact diagnosis?

      Cysts which have a tendency to get infected need to be removed. Superficially placed cysts are removed quite easily, without much complications.

      Let us know the location and tissue of origin of the cyst.

      Reply
  17. Arpit

    Hello sir,
    I have irritation of throat,white patched tonsils and redness through out the throat since last two year. I accurately know that when I drunk very hot water direct from bottle I got it. ENT prescribed amoxi CV for that in very first. I had antibiotic course for 15 days and thereafter I used many time the antibiotic like amoxi azitromycin etc but not cured. ENT tell me that its chronic tonsillitis but due to its last very long and not responding to antibiotics I am worried about throat cancer as I used smoke. I don’t want to remove my tonsils as my physician told me that its very less effective. Please advice me thank you very much .I have no other symptoms but get weakness whenever my throat irritated me badly .

    Reply
    1. Arpit

      Sorry not very hot very cold water and I got throat irritation more whenever I used cold things to eat ant drink.

      Reply
  18. mandeep

    Hi sir, I have a cyst 3.6*1.8mm in right lobe of throat and in left side there is a thyroid nodule in my throat even few small cervical nodes have been seen in ultrasound. It is not cancerous. All results like biopsy have been done but doctors advice me for operation. They ask me that there is no other way for this. Please advice me. I’m very nervous about the operation.

    Reply
      1. mandeep

        They are suggesting throat operation for removing nodule. It is visible on the left side of my throat. It is cosmetic surgery.

        Reply
        1. Buddy M.D. Post author

          An operation is usually done if the nodule is cancerous or has chances of getting infected or malignant in future or it is growing in size and may involve adjacent nerves and vessels.

          One of the above indications is likely to be relevant in your case.

          Any operation in the throat area requires a lot of skill and should be done in the hands of an expert surgeon. There are nerves and vessels to be taken care of.

          Reply
          1. Mandeep

            Sir, I have been operated. Doctors have done thyroid surgery. It’s been 15 days. Stitches have been removed after one week. I am physically fit but on my incision, I have seen small white pimples and little redness but I’m not feeling any pain. I am applying cream on wound. Please suggest. Is it fine or I have to take it seriously and visit doctor urgently?

          2. Buddy M.D. Post author

            You need to clean the wound daily, may be with normal saline. Then apply a topical antibiotic cream over it, twice daily.

            Check if you are doing this or not.

  19. Dale

    I’ve had a sore throat for about a month. Today, while eating I heard a pop in my throat. It is now painful to swallow and tender near my Adams apple. I saw my regular doctor. She checked Thyroid and set me up with ENT but my appointment is a week away still. Just taking Advil and soft foods for now. Could I have popped a cyst?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Possibly yes. However, there is nothing to worry.

      Cysts do get formed in the throat area after throat infections. May be, you developed one that got burst while eating.

      Reply
  20. Stephanie Williams

    I have left lobe heterogeneous nodule and a cyst on right lobe a cyst on thyroid. There is a visible goiter on my right frontal neck advent to thyroid. Very tender to touch and has been there for years.

    Reply
  21. Linda

    Yesterday my specialist told me I have a throat cyst which is yellow color and half centimeter. I don’t feel any pain or any swallowing problem. My voice has been hoarse for one month and a half. The young specialist suggests me to remove it. I don’t want to do it. I expect it to be gone by itself. Is it possible?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It appears to be a localized collection of pus.

      You need to get it drained out by your surgeon. This is a simple procedure.

      Reply
  22. Linda

    On September4 . I posted my question. I said I don’t want my throat cyst removed . Because my doctor says even if removing it, my voice won’t be back to normal from hoarseness. Now the real problem for is I can’t speak normally.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      After removal of the cyst (fluid filled sac), your voice will improve. It may not get normal, but improvement can be expected.

      Moreover, the cyst cannot be left as such. There are chances it may complicate. It may burst, get infected, rupture partially etc.

      Reply
  23. Alleycat

    I too have had problems swallowing, feeling like my tongue is really thick. Dr did the scope :( I have a cyst on the left side of my voice box. I have to have surgery after I have a swallow study done. For surgery, does it require going down the throat or an incision on the neck?

    Reply
  24. James Murphy

    I think I might have a cyst.
    20, Male.
    I have what feels like a pretty small lump just above my Adams apple and below my chin. I think it popped up about 3 days ago. I often shave and feel that area and didn’t notice any bump before 3 days ago. I went to a party and had drinks, then the next morning I felt it when washing my face. It doesn’t really hurt (Though I do not want to put too much pressure on it in case I cause damage) and it isn’t really uncomfortable or noticeable from the outside. I notice it when I swallow saliva but it certainly (not currently) doesn’t impede my breathing eating or drinking.

    Should I consult a GP? or wait to see if it goes down in size, if so what are some home remedies to help it?

    Thanks a lot.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      You may wait for a day or two. Try gargling with slightly salted water.

      If it does not regress, or becomes big/ painful, you need to see a doctor for examination.

      Reply
  25. Chantel

    My 3yr old son has a cyst on his throat. When it is knocked it swells up too the size of a grape and gets red. He has to get antibiotics to help reduce the size. Could this cyst be causing him to wake up at night due to troubled breathing. He does a continuous gulping but can’t breath, until we relax him and he seems to breath OK, but it is terrifying. This happens when the cyst is normal size about a size of a pea. I need help please.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      Are antibiotics able to reduce its size? Has he been examined by a specialist?

      If the cyst is over the epiglottis, it has to be surgically removed. Thyroglossal cysts also need operative measures.

      Reply
  26. Ean

    Hi,

    Last week I noticed a small lump on my neck, right where the Adams apple is. It was relatively small in size and about the size of a piece of corn (if not smaller). In the last two days, this has grown to the size of a grape. With the rapid size change, any disturbance causes discomfort. I’m not too terribly concerned about it being cancerous as with the rapid increase in size really if it’s cancerous I probably wouldn’t last too long. My question is, if it’s a cyst (which is what I’m really leaning towards) would it be fine to wait until Monday to see my GP or if it get much larger should I seek medical attention before then?

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It’s difficult to comment without examination.

      Likely to be a cyst. Cancerous growths are fixed to the underlying structures and irregular (rough) in growth.

      Reply
  27. sandhya

    I am 56 Female. I have hypothyroidism and on artificial thyroxin. I was recently diagnosed with a thyroid nodule of 6mm. Doctors want me to wait and see since it is too small for a FNAC. Last week I was diagnosed with a cyst in the throat. One ENT surgeon wants me to remove it and other one told me to ignore. Little discomfort while eating and drinking. More than that very bad body aches and pains especially in both my hands. Another doctor told me that the fatigue I have is for the thyrodism which I don’t understand. Currently not on any medication for any of these problems. I am wondering whether the throat cyst is a part of the thyroid nodule. What am I to do? Please advice. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      The cyst is unlikely to be a part of the nodule. A little difficulty while eating may be due to the cyst or the nodule, it’s difficult to say without examination.

      For now, treating hypothyroidism is essential. You need to continue taking the medicines till your TSH levels normalize.

      Reply


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