Burning Throat: 7 Common Causes & What to Do

Updated in December 2023

A burning throat can be a sign of anxiety, stress or irritation in the airways from inhaling dry air or smoke, It can also be caused by a cold, COVID-19, bacterial pharyngitis or GERD. 

Depending on the cause, a burning throat can also present with symptoms like coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, pus in the throat, and the sensation of food back-flowing from the stomach to the mouth. 

If you notice a burning throat, especially if you have other additional symptoms, you should see a family doctor. Treatment will vary depending on the cause, and may involve nasal irrigation, gargles and/or medications, like antacids and antibiotics. 

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Why is my throat burning?

The main causes of a burning throat are:

1. Anxiety

Anxiety can cause a burning throat due to a change in how your digestive system works when you are anxious. In addition to a burning throat, many people also experience the sensation of food back-flowing from the stomach to the mouth in moments of stress. 

What to do: It is important to adopt coping measures like regular exercise and distraction to manage your anxiety symptoms. 

In addition, if the anxiety is frequent and interferes with your work or school, you should see a psychiatrist for assessment. Treatment for anxiety may involve medications like antidepressants, benzodiazepines and/or psychotherapy to relieve throat burning. You can also use herbs for anxiety to prepare soothing teas at home. 

2. Allergies

Throat irritation from allergies can also lead to a burning throat. It is also common to experience symptoms like hoarseness, runny nose, sneezing and tearing eyes with allergies. 

What to do: If you suspect you may have allergies, it is important to avoid contact with possible triggers, like pollen, dust or mould. 

In addition, you should see an allergy specialist or family doctor, who may prescribe medications like anti-allergenics and corticosteroids once a diagnosis is confirmed. 

3. Breathing smoke or cold/dry air

Inhaling smoke or cold, dry air can irritate the respiratory airways, leading to symptoms like a burning throat and hoarseness. 

What to do: A burning throat can be relieved through measures like nasal irrigation with saline, gargling with warm water and salt, drinking hot or cold drinks, and using humidifiers. 

4. Cold

A cold can cause a burning throat due to the viral infection reaching the airways. It can also cause symptoms like coughing. sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose and low-grade fever.

What to do: Measures like a nasal irrigation with saline and gargling warm water and salt can help to relieve a burning throat caused by a throat. Check out home remedies for a cold that you can use to speed-up your recovery.

If your fever or headaches persist, you should see a family doctor for assessment. The doctor may recommend analgesics and antipyretics to relieve symptoms.

5. COVID-19

COVID-19 can cause throat burning due to infection in the respiratory airways. In these cases, patients may also present with symptoms like headache, loss of taste or smell, coughing and a runny nose. 

What to do: If you suspect you may have COVID-19, you should consult a family doctor, lung specialist or infectious disease specialist, who may prescribe analgesics or specific antivirals. In very serious cases, admission to the hospital may be necessary. 

6. GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause symptoms like a burning in the throat, chest and stomach. The burning originates from the stomach and is most common after meals and when resting in a lying position, especially in obese patients.

When feeling the burning, it is also common to feel that food is back-flowing from the stomach to the throat.

What to do: If you suspect you may have GERD, you should consult a gastroenterologist or a family doctor. Once confirmed, treatment usually involves the use of antacid medication. 

Other measures like weight loss, sleeping well and waiting at least 3 hours between your last meal and going to sleep can also be beneficial. The doctor may also also recommend a GERD diet, which involves avoiding spicy food, fatty food, citrus, chocolate, alcohol and coffee.

7. Bacterial pharyngitis

Bacterial pharyngitis is an infection caused by bacteria that causes throat burning. This burning tends to worsen when swallowing food. 

In addition to throat burning, symptoms like fever and pus in the throat may also emerge. 

What to do: If you suspect bacterial pharyngitis, you should consult an otolaryngologist or family doctor. Once confirmed, treamtent may involve the use of antibiotics and analgesics. 

When to see a doctor

You are advised to see a doctor if you have: 

  • Fever
  • Frequent throat burning
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Dark, coffee-ground stools
  • Vomiting with blood
  • Difficulty or pain with swallowing
  • Family history of esophageal or stomach cancer 

In these cases, it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible so that the cause of the burning can be identified and treated appropriately.

Burning throat during pregnancy

A burning throat during pregnancy is usually caused by reflux, which is a common symptom during pregnancy. Other common symptoms include heartburn and stomach burning.