Why Do We Get a Lump In Our Throat When We Cry?

Whether we’re overcome with joy at a beautiful wedding ceremony or we just finished watching a sad movie, our bodies respond in much the same way — with tears. It’s not just tears that accompany great sadness or joy. We get that strange lump in our throat, too. So what causes a physical reaction in one part of the body, when we’re crying with another part? Scientists believe that physical reactions like an increased heart rate, slower breathing, and our stress hormone- and endorphin-laden tears are there to quickly stabilize our mood and signal to those around us that we need comforting. This is the same system that controls our “fight or flight” response, along with other subconscious body functions like digestion. When this system switches into hyper mode, it first sends out oxygen all over the body. In an effort to take in more air, the nervous system tells the glottis — the opening in the throat that ushers air into the lungs without taking food with it — to stay open for as long as possible. In other words, the throat opens wider than normal because a bigger opening means more air. We don’t actually feel the glottis opening wide, but what we do feel is muscle tension caused by the body trying to keep the glottis open even when we swallow. When we’re not crying, the glottis opens and closes as we swallow all day long. When we cry, the glottis is trying to stay open, but it gets forced closed every time we swallow. This tension messes with the muscles in the throat, giving us the sensation of a lump in the throat. So, there you have it! That lump in your throat is actually just your body transforming you into a better breathing machine.