Bumps in the back of the throat may look swollen and rough. Some people call this symptom cobblestone throat due to its appearance.
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.
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.
Viral infections cause 60–90% of pharyngitis cases. Other viruses, such as chickenpox, herpes, croup, and mono, sometimes cause swelling and a cobblestone throat.
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 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.
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.
A 2016 study of 2,000 people seeking treatment for a sore throat found that just 160 (8%) needed antibiotics.
Many home remedies can help relieve the symptoms of a sore throat and reduce the swelling and bumps. These remedies include:
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.
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:
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.