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