What causes bumps in the back of the throat?
Most people with a cobblestone throat have pharyngitis, which causes the throat to feel swollen, painful, and irritated. Several different conditions can cause pharyngitis, but it is most commonly due to a viral or bacterial infection, such as the flu or common cold.
In this article, read more about the causes of bumps in the back of the throat, as well as home remedies and when to see a doctor.
Infections can cause a cobblestone appearance at the back of the throat.
Image credit: Dake, 2006
When the body fights an infection or irritant, the lymph nodes and lymph tissue fill with fluid and become swollen.
Swollen lymph glands can cause the cells under the skin to swell and look bumpy, which doctors call pharyngitis.
Bacterial infections may also cause bumps at the back of the throat. Bacterial infections are more common in winter and early spring.
Children and teenagers may have a higher risk of viral and bacterial throat infections, including those that cause bumps at the back of the throat.
Sometimes, pharyngitis can be a chronic problem that lasts for weeks or months, causing the cobblestone appearance to linger for a long time.
When pharyngitis is chronic, it is usually because something continuously irritates the throat, rather than because a person has an infection. Acid reflux and allergies are possible culprits.
People with swelling or lumps at the back of the throat might worry that they have cancer. Cancer does not typically cause bumps at the back of the throat. However, it is important to talk to a doctor about any growth or swelling that does not go away.
In addition to seeing bumps at the back of the throat, a person may have swelling at the back of the mouth or throat, often right behind the tonsils.
Some other symptoms that a person might experience include:
A doctor can usually diagnose the cause of the bumps by looking at the throat. Some other tests that may aid diagnosis include:
- a blood test for Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mono
- a throat culture to test for Streptococcus bacteria, which cause strep throat
- a throat culture to test for less common viruses, such as chlamydia
A doctor may also ask questions about how long the throat has been sore and whether the person has a history of allergies or acid reflux.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection.
Image credit: Assianir, 2012
Most infections that cause bumps in the back of the throat are viral and will go away without treatment. The common cold and flu usually take about a week to go away. Some infections, such as mono, take much longer — anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections, but many people with a cobblestone throat do not have a bacterial infection. Taking too many antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance, making it less likely that these medications will work in people who really need them.
Many home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of a sore throat and reduce the swelling and bumps. These remedies include:
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers. Some research suggests that ibuprofen offers more relief than acetaminophen.
- Sucking on a throat lozenge or hard candy.
- Gargling with warm salt water.
- Trying a throat numbing spray. This spray may temporarily relieve burning throat pain.
- Using a humidifier. Some people find that humidifiers help with nighttime coughing because they help combat dryness.
- Consuming honey to reduce coughing and throat soreness. In a 2012 study, children who received doses of honey had more significant improvements in sleep quality and decreases in coughing than those who used a placebo.
Some people use herbal remedies to help with symptoms or to speed healing. The authors of a 2012 Cochrane review found limited evidence to suggest that some Chinese herbal mixtures may help with throat pain.
However, the evidence was of poor quality, so they do not recommend any specific Chinese herbal remedies for treating throat pain.
When to see a doctor
If a person's symptoms get worse over several days, they should speak to a doctor.
A person with a cold or another suspected virus who develops bumps at the back of their throat can safely try home treatment for a few days.
People should see a doctor if:
- symptoms get worse over several days
- symptoms do not improve with home treatment
- a newborn or infant develops cobblestone throat or a fever
- the pain is unbearable
It is important to go to the emergency room if throat pain makes breathing very difficult or if the throat feels as though it is closing. If a baby or child has difficulty breathing, seek emergency care.
Bumps in the back of the throat can be alarming, but for most people, this symptom will disappear over time without treatment.
As babies and young children are more vulnerable to infection, it is important to seek medical care for any unusual symptoms, including bumps in the back of the throat.
Older children and most adults can wait to see whether their symptoms go away with rest and home remedies. Anyone who is in doubt about what to do should see a doctor.