How to Do a Thyroid Neck Check

Benefits and Limitation of the Self-Exam

A thyroid swallowing test is a self-exam of your thyroid gland. It's also called a neck check. You can do the thyroid swallowing test at home to check for lumps or enlargements on your own thyroid gland.

What Is Your Thyroid?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the lower front of the neck. It's just above your clavicle (collarbone) and below your larynx (voice box).

Growths on the thyroid can be nodules and goiters or thyroid cancer. Lumps in the neck can be caused by thyroid disease or other conditions such as:

However, you should know that a neck check is not considered the most accurate or reliable way to identify thyroid disease. You can have serious thyroid disease and have a completely normal neck check.

On the other hand, finding a major growth on your thyroid is likely not a serious problem; often, it's a sign of an easily treatable condition, such as an iodine deficiency.

Is a Thyroid Neck Check Accurate?

A 2017 report from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that feeling the neck for lumps detected thyroid nodules in only 11.6% of cases. Ultrasound, an imaging procedure using sound waves, was five times more accurate at finding abnormal thyroid growths.

This article will go over how to do a thyroid swallowing test at home to check your thyroid. It will also help you decide when to see a provider about something you find on a thyroid neck check.

how to do a thyroid neck check

Verywell / Emily Roberts

1

Preparing to Do a Thyroid Neck Check

To prepare for a thyroid swallowing test at home, stand in front of a mirror so that you can see your neck.

Remove any items, such as a scarf, necktie, jewelry, or turtleneck, that could block your view of your neck.

If you're going to use a hand-held mirror, make sure it's focused on the lower-front part of your neck.

2

Position Your Neck

Your neck needs to be in the right position for a thyroid swallowing test.

Gently extend your neck back. Then, slightly point your chin toward the ceiling so that you can get a longer view of your neck.

3

Sip Water

The actual "swallowing" part of a thyroid swallowing test comes next.

With your neck slightly extended back, take a sip of water. When you swallow, it moves your voice box (larynx) forward.

Swallowing will help you see the shape of your thyroid gland better. It will also make it easier to see any abnormal shapes.

4

Watch as You Swallow

Here's what to look for as you're doing a thyroid swallowing test:

  • Bigger than normal areas (enlargements)
  • Lumps
  • Parts sticking out (protrusions)
  • Parts that look or feel off-center

Doing a thyroid check just one time probably won't be enough to get a proper look at your thyroid, so you can repeat the steps again.

Swallow another mouthful of water and watch your neck, taking note of anything that seems unusual.

Nodules vs. Goiters

When you do a thyroid swallowing test you might see nodules or goiters. Here is how to tell which is which:

  • Thyroid nodules are bumps that usually look round. You may feel a thyroid nodule rolling beneath your fingertips or see it move with your thyroid gland when you swallow.
  • A goiter (swelling) is often on one side of the thyroid but sometimes it can be on both sides.
5

Feel Your Neck

Once you've completed the looking part of a thyroid swallowing test, move on to the feeling part.

Gently touch the area around your thyroid gland to feel for any parts that are bigger than normal, have bumps, or are sticking out.

Here's how to tell the difference between your thyroid and the other structures of your neck:

  1. Slide your finger down the midline of your neck. The first hard structure you will hit is the thyroid cartilage that goes to your Adam's apple.
  2. As you continue to move your finger down, you will feel another bit of cartilage called the cricoid ring. It goes around your windpipe (trachea).
  3. About two fingers-width below the ring is the thyroid isthmus. This is the tissue that connects the two sides of the thyroid gland. The lobes of the gland are on either side of the thyroid isthmus.
6

Talk to Your Provider

After you've done a thyroid swallowing test at home, talk to your healthcare provider about what you saw and felt.

If you have a thyroid that is bigger than normal or any bumps, your provider might want to do some tests like:

Is It Cancer?

Finding a nodule when you do a thyroid swallowing test does not mean that you have thyroid cancer. In fact, a 2018 study found that only around 8% of thyroid nodules are cancerous.

Summary

A thyroid swallowing test is a way to check your thyroid gland at home. Doing an at-home thyroid neck check can help you find lumps or growths on your thyroid gland.

All you need to do a thyroid self-check is a mirror and a glass of water. You take a sip of water and watch your neck as you swallow. If you notice any areas that look or feel bigger or bumpier than normal, let your provider know.

A Word From Verywell

A thyroid swallowing test can help you spot potential problems with your thyroid, but it's not perfect.

You could have a thyroid condition and have a normal self-check and finding something abnormal does not mean you have a serious condition.

The best way to catch thyroid problems, including thyroid cancer, is to see your provider regularly for check-ups.

If you do notice something unusual in your neck or are concerned, make sure you let your provider know. They can do tests that are more accurate than a thyroid swallowing test.

Thyroid Disease Healthcare Provider Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next healthcare provider's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can your thyroid cause problems swallowing?

    People with thyroid conditions may have trouble swallowing. You may feel like it's hard to swallow if you have a thyroid gland that is bigger than normal or has nodules.

  • What is a thyroid barium swallow test used for?

    A barium swallow test is used to look for problems in the throat (esophagus) and upper parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

    When a thyroid problem is making a person feel like they're having trouble swallowing, a barium swallow test can help figure out what's wrong.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lin JS, Bowles EJA, Williams SB, Morrison CC. Screening for thyroid cancer: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2017;317(18):1888-903. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0562

  2. Pynnonen MA, Gillespie MB, Roman B. Clinical practice guideline: evaluation of the neck mass in adults. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Sep;157(2_Suppl):S1-30. doi:10.1177/0194599817722550.

  3. Gregory A, Bayat M, Kumar V, et al. Differentiation of benign and malignant thyroid nodules by using comb-push ultrasound shear elastography: a preliminary two-plane view study. Acad Radiol. 2018;25(11):1388-97. doi:10.1016/j.acra.2018.02.025

  4. Greenblatt DY, Sippel R, Leverson G, Frydman J, Schaefer S, Chen H. Thyroid resection improves perception of swallowing function in patients with thyroid disease. World J Surg. 2009 Feb;33(2):255-60. doi: 10.1007/s00268-008-9837-9. PMID: 19034567; PMCID: PMC2903838.

  5. Jarrod D. Frizzell, Brandon J. Perkins, R. Scott Morehead, "Thyroid Lymphoma as a Cause of Dysphagia and Dyspnea in a Patient without Palpable Nodules or Goiter", Case Reports in Medicine, vol. 2009, Article ID 385461, 2 pages, 2009. doi:10.1155/2009/385461

By Mary Shomon
Mary Shomon is a writer and hormonal health and thyroid advocate. She is the author of "The Thyroid Diet Revolution."