There’s nothing good about an itchy throat, but chances are that you have experienced such irritation at least once in your lifetime.
An itchy throat typically occurs if you have allergies or an allergic reaction. However, it can also occur if something irritates your throat, such as dry air.
While an itch in the back of your throat is an unpleasant experience, knowing its exact cause can often help you with treating the condition fairly easily.
Continue reading this article to learn more about an itchy throat.
Itchiness in the throat can be caused by a number of factors, and knowing its cause is essential for effective treatment. Here are the most common causes of an itchy throat, and how you can identify them:
An itchy throat is typically a sign of an allergic reaction, which is an exaggerated response of your immune system when an irritant enters your body. An allergy can be triggered by any of the following:
An allergic reaction can also be caused by inhaling pollutants such as pesticides or cigarette smoke. The reaction can range from mild to severe, with an itchy throat usually indicating a mild allergic reaction.
If your itchy nose is caused due to allergies, you might also experience the following symptoms:
One rule of thumb to tell whether your itchy throat is due to an allergy is that it typically does not come with a fever, and may even persist longer than a common illness.
Despite its name, hay fever does not actually mean that you’re allergic to hay. Also known as allergic rhinitis, it is an allergic reaction that affects the nose and sinuses.
Hay fever occurs when any of the following irritants trigger an exaggerated immune response:
An estimated 40 to 60 million Americans experience hay fever every year. The condition can be seasonal, typically caused by airborne spores or mold, or may be experienced year-round.
Besides an itchy throat, allergic rhinitis has the following symptoms:
While hay fever is often confused for a common cold due to their overlapping symptoms, an itchy throat lasting longer than a few weeks is usually a telltale sign of hay fever.
A viral or bacterial infection such as COVID-19 or the flu can cause irritation in your throat. In more severe cases, a person might experience mono, the flu, or strep throat, all of which can progress to more serious symptoms.
Any infection that might irritate the throat can cause some itchiness, although bacterial and viral infections are also accompanied by other symptoms, which are typically condition specific.
In general, an itchy throat that is caused by an illness can progress to more serious symptoms like:
Symptoms for mild illnesses usually last a few days to a couple of weeks, although more serious cases might persist for longer without proper treatment.
Some medications can also trigger an itchy throat. People taking angiotensin-converting enzyme (AEC) inhibitors for treating hypertension should remember that these medications can cause dry coughs and throat irritation, and even rhinitis and nasal blockage in some cases.
Besides these, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also known to cause throat irritation, which indicates an allergy to the medication.
An upper respiratory tract infection (URI) affects your sinuses and throat and can cause a feeling of scratchiness in the throat.
Your respiratory tract is always exposed to viruses and bacteria as you’re constantly breathing. Upper respiratory tract infections are defined as self-limiting, with no proof of pneumonia.
Common URIs include:
Other symptoms of a respiratory tract infection include:
Upper respiratory tract infections typically last one to two weeks. However, these infections are contagious, passing from one person to another through respiratory droplets or hand-to-hand contact.
There’s a reason why your body produces mucus in your nose – it’s to moisturize the air your breathing in.
Remember the feeling of waking up in the night and finding it difficult to even swallow your saliva? That’s the dry air you’ve been breathing with your mouth open throughout the night.
The reason why your throat may feel dry during summers and winters is because of the change in temperature and humidity, leading to dries than usual air.
A 2013 study found that sending cold, dry air down the throat can not only cause pain and irritation but also increase inflammation, which can cause you to develop a sore throat.
When the glands in your nose and throat produce excess mucus, you can feel it accumulating in the back of your throat, feeling like a lump. This is known as a postnasal drip.
Postnasal drip is most commonly caused by allergies, although conditions like sinus infections, changes in the weather, or a deviated septum might also cause it.
This mucus buildup in your throat can cause irritation, leading to itchiness and a sore throat. It may even cause painful ear infections in some cases.
Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, occurs when your stomach acid travels back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in your throat.
Besides heartburn and indigestion, acid reflux can cause a sore throat. This happens because stomach acid can irritate the lining of the esophagus and throat.
Some people might also experience a condition known as silent reflux, which can cause throat irritation without heartburn, a primary symptom of typical acid reflux.
With an itchy throat is not listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a symptom of COVID-19, they do mention that the condition can cause a sore throat.
The most commonly reported symptoms of coronavirus include:
Other possible but less frequently reported symptoms are:
As COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, scientists and doctors are still learning about new symptoms of the disease. As such, it is possible that your itchy throat could be caused by COVID-19.
The CDC recommends that if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19.
You are also at an increased risk of getting coronavirus if:
In case you experience difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, inability to stay away, or blue-colored skin or lips, you should seek immediate medical attention,
At-home treatment for your itchy throat can be done in a number of ways. Some treatments target your immune system, while others are centered around providing comfort to your irritated throat.
It is also important to distance yourself from possible allergens if your itchy throat is caused by an allergy. This might involve distancing yourself from your pet, checking your house for molds, or simply a cleanup.
How you treat the itchy throat depends upon its cause. If it is caused due to allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines can help in relieving the discomfort.
These are drugs used to relieve medical conditions related to allergies, such as hay fever, hives, or conjunctivitis.
If your symptoms are caused by a bacterial or viral infection, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics or antiviral drugs, based on the exact cause.
If the medications don’t relieve your symptoms, your doctor might prescribe stronger medication or conduct further tests to determine the exact cause of your illness.
It is not possible to completely prevent an itchy throat. However, there are certain steps that you can take to reduce the possibility of it occurring.
An estimated 40 to 50 million people in the United States have an allergy. Learning and avoiding allergy triggers can help prevent an itchy throat and allergic reactions in general. An allergy specialist can conduct an allergy skin test to learn which things you might be allergic to.
Besides allergies, certain lifestyle choices can also reduce the risk of an itchy throat, which include:
These steps can help you prevent some of the most common causes of an itchy throat, such as the flu, strep throat, and other infections.
An itchy throat is typically self-relieving and can be managed with simple home care. However, there are certain telltale signs that indicate something is wrong with your body that might require a doctor.
In case your itchy throat worsens over time into a sore throat and causes pain while swallowing or difficulty breathing, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Depending upon your symptoms, your doctor may conduct a test for allergies, or for common bacterial and viral infections.
Your doctor typically begins by asking you when your symptoms first appeared, and whether you suspect something to be causing these symptoms.
If your symptoms are not caused by an allergy, your doctor might recommend a visit to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
While an itchy throat is usually not a medical emergency, the experience can be irritating nonetheless. The condition is often caused by allergies or common infections and goes away on its own.
If the itchiness in your throat is rapidly worsening or has not gone away after a couple of weeks even with home remedies and medication, you should see a doctor.