Tics, such as clearing the throat, primarily affect children, but can continue into adulthood. According to Medline Plus, tics appear three to four times more in boys than girls and may affect 1/4 of all children at some point in time. Tics may be short-lived or appear due to chronic conditions, such as Tourettes’s syndrome. Consult your doctor if your child’s tics negatively impact his life.
Tics are repetitive, sudden and mostly uncontrollable movements or sounds, such as clearing the throat, grimacing, squinting and nose wrinkling. These spastic movements can occur in any part of your child’s body, including his hands, legs, face and shoulders, and can affect only a few muscles or many muscle groups. Motor tics involve body movements, such as arm jerking and eye blinking; whereas vocal tics consist of vocal noises, such as clearing the throat, grunting or shouting out words. The most common tic disorder, transient tic disorder -- which lasts less than three months -- affects up to 10 percent of American children, according to a 2010 report by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Although less likely, your child might suffer from a chronic tic disorder, which can appear and reappear over a lifetime. Chronic tic disorders affect around 1 to 2 percent of Americans, according to a 2011 Medline Plus report.
Tourette ’s Syndrome
Your child’s tics can also occur from a mental disorder which affects the nervous system, called Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s syndrome produces both motor and vocal tics, such as throat clearing, and affects three of every 1,000 children in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disorder frequently occurs in conjunction with other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In fact, the CDC reports that 79 percent of the children diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome are also diagnosed with at least one other mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Children generally begin exhibiting the tics associated with this syndrome from the ages of 5 to 10, which often decrease or completely disappear by the adolescent years.
Your child’s environment may contribute to the number of verbal tics he experiences. Research published in the Fall 2001 edition of the “Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis” observed the relationship between tic-related talk and the number of verbal and motor tics in boys suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. A 16-year-old boy diagnosed with moderate tics and a 6-year-old boy with mild-to-moderate tics were videotaped from behind a one-way mirror as researchers asked the boys to discuss their tics or asked questions unrelated to their tics. Findings indicate that vocal tics, such as throat clearing, substantially increased in both boys during tic-talk and decreased during discussions of other topics. However, neither boy exhibited significantly reduced motor tics, such as finger stretching and foot stomping. Although this data supports the reactive effect of tic-talk on verbal tics, the effect of tic-talk on motor tics remains unknown. Researchers noted that, despite its limited number of subjects, the adverse effect of tic-talk on vocal tics was obvious in both participants. Additional research is needed to determine the effect of environmental factors, such as tic-talk, on Tourette’s syndrome.
Treatment for your child depends on the severity of her tics and the adverse impact it has on her life. Tics, including throat clearing, can get worse during times of excitement, fatigue, stress, as well as in warm environments. According to board-certified neurologist Rami Grossmann, reducing stressful situations can relieve short-lived, transient tic disorders. In addition, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital recommends ignoring tics at home, encouraging physical activities and reassuring your child that she is accepted and loved. Although most tics are usually mild, severe tics can result in poor self-esteem and anxiety. Your doctor might recommend medication if your child experiences muscle pains, social problems, such as bullying or teasing, or emotional problems, including depression. Additional treatment options include support groups, psychological counseling and behavioral therapies.