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 as well in my throat quite large and on antibiotics have a 1 year old daughter am so 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 and MRI but has shown nothing. I find mine very uncomfortable. They can’t remove it for 6 months. Should I be worried? I’m 28 F and I smoke and drink on weekends:(

    Reply
  3. landers@mchsi.com

    My husband has a lump in his throat, been hoarse, has a bx next week, ws started on Prilosec, and said 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. garymcintyre1990@hotmail.co.uk

    Hi im in the army and i realised i had two cysti growths in my throat when i was in afghanistan last year at first i felt two lumps at the side of my throat and didnt think of it as anything and as the weeks went on my face started to grow extremley large and i was struggling to breathe eat sleep and drink could these have been cause due to the fact that 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 because as a result of my operation the right handside of my mouth is permanantly disfirgured and also my left handside of my face is permanatly numb and also my jaw goes into jaw lock now and again and my jaw cracks alot and i didnt have any of theses problems before my operation could you get back to me on my email address and 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
  5. lydia bud.kw@wildblue.net

    I had ultra sound which showed a couple of masses in throat. Blood work for thyroid was normal, also radio iodine CT showed normal uptake. CT with contrast still shows mass, possible cyst. Doctor’s first thought is surgery. Is this the first choice, before aspirating to check fluid as I have no current discomfort. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It would be better to first ascertained the nature of the throat masses. Are they cystic, heterogenous 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.

      Take Care,
      Buddy M.D.

      Reply
  6. Priya

    I am 21 F. 4 years back I found a disfigurement in my throat and 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 from many 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.

      Take Care,
      Buddy M.D.

      Reply
  7. vesnamisic.hemel@gmail.com

    Lekar mi je na pregledu ustanovio da imam Cysta plicae laryngiepiglotis
    l.s in savetovao odma operacija,jer je velicina veceg zrna graska.To je ustanovio obicnim pregledom.Da li se to moze odstraniti laserski ili klasicna
    operacija sa totalnom anestezijom.
    Veca

    Reply
  8. 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 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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. Im 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
  14. 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 likley 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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 azitromycine etc but not cured. Ent tell me that its chronich tonsilties 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 tonsilities 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 irtited 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
  19. 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
  20. 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

      Possibibly 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


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