The Effects of Bulimia on the Throat

Due to the physical impact of purging, bulimia nervosa (BN) has the potential to cause significant damage to the throat.

These complications can make it hard to talk and painful to swallow. And the repeated behavior can even increase the risk of esophageal cancer, a dangerous and potentially deadly condition.

Effects of bulimia on the throat

Still, the reverse is also true: Slowing or stopping purging behavior can help improve or reverse many of these unpleasant and dangerous effects.

Health concerns in the mouth and throat are more common in people who struggle with purging-type bulimia nervosa. That’s because many of these issues are caused or made worse by the complications involved in self-induced vomiting.

Initially, a person who engages in purging behavior may not experience too many throat-related effects beyond some soreness for a short period after purging. However, symptoms can worsen as the behavior continues.

Signs and Symptoms of Throat Damage

Some common signs and symptoms associated with throat damage include: [1]

  • Hoarseness
  • Burning sensation
  • Thick mucus over the larynx
  • Ulcers or sores in the esophagus
  • Enlargement of tissue joining the vocal folds
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux, which can produce a feeling that something is stuck in the throat

These symptoms can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, affecting their ability to speak and potentially making it painful when they speak. 

It can also interfere with a person’s ability to sing, which in some cases has negatively impacted the careers of people who sing professionally.

Effects of Chronic Purging

As purging behavior continues, its effects on the throat and mouth worsen. Long-term purging behavior can lead to a number of dangerous complications in someone with BN, including: [2]

  • Esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus 
  • Achalasia, a complication where the lower esophagus muscles don’t relax properly
  • Barrett’s esophagus, a condition where a person develops irregularities with their mucosal lining
  • Esophageal bleeding, which also increases the risk of infection

Repeated self-induced vomiting may also cause esophageal tears or ruptures. These dangerous conditions are usually detected by a heavy presence of blood in the vomit, and, if not treated quickly, could lead to death.

Chronic purging has also been linked with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Research on the subject is still nascent, but scientists believe the repeated microtrauma of self-induced vomiting could play a role in the transformation of healthy esophageal tissue into malignant cells. [3]

Person with jaw pain

Why Does Bulimia Damage the Throat?

Bulimia mostly damages the throat as a result of purging, particularly when expressed as self-induced vomiting. 

This action tends to exert much more force on the muscles that line the throat. When experienced on a regular basis, this could cause damage to the muscles, veins, and capillaries that line this delicate area.

Many people also force themselves to vomit by putting their fingers in their throats. This could cause irritation in the lining of the throat or result in scratching the tissue, which could potentially lead to infection.

Damage from Stomach Acid

Arguably the biggest source of throat damage for people struggling with bulimia nervosa is stomach acid.

This powerful bile is made of hydrochloric acid, a fairly destructive substance capable of breaking down solid food. And the stomach is comprised of several layers of muscle and mucus membrane, which help protect it against the effects of this acid. [4]

Still, other areas of the body are not designed nor intended to come in regular contact with this corrosive substance, including the lining of the throat. These more delicate tissues can sustain severe damage after repeated exposure, including ulcers, 

Treating Throat Damage Caused by Bulimia

In many cases, the damage done to the throat from repeated exposure to purging is not permanent. 

Medications can be an effective tool for healing ulcers, and surgery can be used to help repair a torn or ruptured esophagus. More minor complications, such as sore throat, will often go away on their own.

Still, none of these helpful effects will last so long as the purging behavior continues. As such, the best way to treat throat damage caused by bulimia nervosa is to seek treatment for bulimia nervosa itself.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly-recommended course of treatment for BN. [5] 

This form of psychotherapy focuses on helping clients identify negative thought patterns and change their automatic responses to them. The overall goal of CBT is to give people healthier outlets and coping mechanisms to deal with unhelpful thoughts while simultaneously working to help them eliminate unhelpful behaviors.

Regardless, the important thing to remember is that help for bulimia nervosa is always available. If you or a loved one are struggling with this condition, it’s never too late to reach out, or seek treatment.


  1. Forney, K. J., Buchman-Schmitt, J. M., Keel, P. K., & Frank, G. K. (2016). The medical complications associated with purging. The International journal of eating disorders; 49(3):249–259.
  2. Mehler, P. S., & Rylander, M. (2015). Bulimia Nervosa – medical complications. Journal of eating disorders; 3:12.
  3. Shinohara, E. T., Swisher-McClure, S., Husson, M., Sun, W., & Metz, J. M. (2007). Esophageal cancer in a young woman with bulimia nervosa: a case report. Journal of medical case reports, 1:160.
  4. How Does the Stomach Work? (2016, August 21). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Retrieved September 16, 2022.
  5. Costa, M. B., & Melnik, T. (2016). Effectiveness of psychosocial interventions in eating disorders: an overview of Cochrane systematic reviews. Einstein (Sao Paulo, Brazil); 14(2):235–277.

Last Update | 12 - 20 - 2022

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