Vocal Tics: Unwanted Repetitive Sounds

Help for vocal tic disorders, such as grunting or constant throat clearing.

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  1. What are Vocal Tics?
  2. What Causes Vocal Tics?
  3. More Information on Vocal Tics

What are Vocal Tics?

These noises are involuntary and uncontrollable phonic expressions, such as grunts, hiccups and repetitive phrases. They are classified as either simple or complex.

Simple vocal tics, also known as phonic tics, include one simple sound.

Simple vocal tics include:

  • Grunting
  • Barking
  • Coughing
  • Hissing
  • Sniffing
  • Snorting
  • Throat clearing
  • Habitual sniffing

Complex vocal tics involve more complicated expressions. Some people will repeat their own or other people’s words or sentences (echolalia). Others may use obscene words, have swearing outbursts, or use uncontrolled vulgar language (coprolalia).

Complex vocal tics include:

  • Yelling
  • Animal Sounds
  • Repeating words and phrases

Unwanted vocalizations vary in content and severity between individuals. In some cases, they interfere with normal conversation and disrupt the constant flow of normal speech. In other cases, they are mild and less noticeable.

About 20% of children experience some type of unwanted muscle movement, especially when stressed. Boys are 3-4 times more likely to be affected than girls. The condition may run in families.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes the body to make these unwanted noises, but stress and fatigue seem to make symptoms worse.

What Causes Vocal Tics?

The cause of vocal tics is not well-understood. There are many factors that may play a role: family history, genetics, dietary deficiencies (particularly magnesium), anxiety and certain medications. Other factors like stress, fatigue, illness, excitement and over-stimulation can make things worse.

Vocalizations are also a common symptom of Tourette syndrome. For a diagnosis of Tourette syndrome, the individual must also experience motor tics. Symptoms need to occur for at least one year.

Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome is a medical condition involving both movement and sounds. Symptoms may include spasms in the head, face and arms. Tourette syndrome usually begins in childhood.

Symptoms associated with Tourette syndrome include:

  • Vocalizing swear words
  • Yelling
  • Obscene gestures
  • Flapping arms
  • Socially inappropriate touching
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Sticking out the tongue
  • Excessive hiccupping
  • Throat clearing

Tourette syndrome is usually managed with behavioral treatment. Doctors may recommend medication in some cases.

Diagnosing Vocal Tics

Doctors make a diagnosis based on a patient or parent report along with a physical examination. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend an EEG to rule out movement conditions or neurological conditions.

Help for Vocal Tics

There are many options for treating vocal tics, including behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques and medications.

For mild problems, the best option may be no treatment. Especially with children, making someone overly concerned about the situation could make things worse.

If the unwanted noises begin to interfere with daily life, your doctor may recommend medication such as Risperidone to help manage the symptoms. While medications may be effective, they can have unwanted side effects. Many people prefer a more natural solution.

Natural medicines from Native Remedies can help relieve symptoms. Tic Tamer™ for Muscle Spasms & Jerking, and PureCalm™ for Naturally Soothed Nerves, and Epi-Still-S™ for Overactive Nervous System are safe, natural remedies without side effects.

There are also several strategies you can try on your own:

  • Relax. Practice relaxation techniques and lower anxiety. Deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques can help you relax when you’re stressed.
  • Exercise. 30 minutes of moderate exercise can reduce stress and anxiety. Sports and outdoor games are a great way to get active and reduce stress levels.
  • Magnesium. Make sure you’re eating enough magnesium. Magnesium-rich foods include green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as green beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
  • Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is found in sodas, coffee, tea and chocolate.
  • Get enough sleep. Make sure you’re getting good quality sleep.
  • Seek professional help. Psychotherapy or counseling can help you learn to manage the underlying causes such as stress and anxiety. Speaking with a trained professional can help you cope with the emotional impact.
  • Encourage confidence. Many children withdraw socially as a result of making unwanted noises. Help encourage your child to be confident, and make them aware that this condition is nothing to feel ashamed about.




  1. “Tics.” TeensHealth. Accessed February 20, 2020. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/tics.html
  2. Parker, H. “Tic Disorders and Twitches.” WebMD. Accessed September 8, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/brain/tic-disorders-and_twitches
  3. “Kids and Tics: What’s “Normal” and When to See a Specialist.” Children’s MD. Accessed February 20, 2020. https://childrensmd.org/uncategorized/kids-tics-whats-normal-see-specialist/
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