There’s an old saying still used today of “having a frog in the throat.” The age-old adage can be used to describe everything from a raspy voice to congestion, but for some people it refers to strange, unpredictable, often embarrassing gurgles and squeaks echoing in the throat.
Though experienced by everyone at some point, frog noises in the throat of a chronic nature aren’t just normal sounds made by the body; they are symptoms of a condition known as upper esophageal sphincter (UES) dysfunction or dysfunction of the belch reflex. Individuals with this issue not only have strange throat sounds, they often can’t burp, and the two issues go hand-in-hand.
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To understand the reason behind these frog noises, it is important to understand what the upper esophageal sphincter does in the body. According to materials from The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the UES has the primary purpose of preventing esophagopharyngeal regurgitation of stomach acids. Stomach gasses, however, are supposed to pass through, allowing the body to expel them and prevent bloating.
Burping, or the expulsion of intragastric air, occurs during transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation, when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of the esophagus allows air to pass upwards from the stomach. This action is supposed to trigger relaxation of the upper esophageal sphincter, creating what most people refer to as a burp or a belch. The process occurs in the human body up to 30 times a day, according to a report from Medscape.
Individuals with dysfunction of the belch reflex don’t experience the relaxation of the UES that is supposed to occur during the burp process. This causes air to become trapped in the throat and results in the squeaks, gurgles and frog noises people become self-conscious about. Occasionally these same individuals may experience chest pain related to air buildup in the gastrointestinal system and may experience frog noises most commonly after eating.
Individuals who can’t burp must pass gas and air through other ways and tend to have higher rates of flatulence compared to other people, though dysfunction of the belch reflex doesn’t mean the UES malfunctions 100 percent of the time. Individuals with this condition generally do release air from the UES, though it may be in smaller quantities.
Once someone learns they have dysfunction of the belch reflex, the next question to be explored is why.
There are some diseases associated with this symptom; however, individuals who are otherwise healthy and have experienced dysfunction of the belch reflex for the majority of their lifetimes may have a congenital abnormality that prevents proper UES function.
Only a doctor will be able to determine the cause of dysfunction of the belch reflex.