Dry Throat: 12 Common Causes (& When to See a Doctor)

Updated in December 2023

A dry throat can be the result of decreased water intake throughout the day, very dry environments, excessive talking or exposure to irritating substances. These conditions can be relieved with easy measures, like drinking more water, resting your voice and avoiding irritating substances. 

Some health conditions can also cause a dry throat, like a cold, flu, pharyngitis, or tonsillitis. These infections can also cause symptoms like headaches, body aches, general malaise, fever, sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose and watery eyes.

It is important to see a family doctor or an ENT specialist if you notice a dry throat frequently or if it presents with other symptoms. By identifying the underlying cause, appropriate treatment can be initiated. 

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Common causes

The most common causes of a dry throat are: 

1. Dehydration

A dry throat can emerge due to dehydration from inadequate fluid intake. A dehydrated body will not produce sufficient amounts of saliva, leading to a dry or irritated throat. 

What to do: You should ideally drink at least 2 L of water per day through small sips throughout the day. This will keep the throat hydrated and prevent a dry throat sensation. People with difficulty meeting their water goals can flavor their waters to make it more appealing. Check out a list of infused water recipes that you can prepare at home. 

2. Dry air or air conditioning

Very dry air can cause to less moisture in the throat, leading to a dry and irritated throat. Dry conditions can also cause a dry cough, post-nasal drip and hoarseness. 

Air conditioning in indoor environments can also lead to drier environments, causing a dry throat and irritation. 

What to do: Ideally, you should avoid air conditioned spades and exposure to dry environments. You can also relieve symptoms by drinking more water and using a humidifier in dry rooms.

3. Sleeping with your mouth open

Sleeping with your mouth open increases the likelihood for snoring, which can lead to an irritated dry throat in the morning. Breathing through your mouth can dry up the saliva that would normally keep your throat moist. 

Some conditions that can lead to open-mouth breathing or snoring include sleeping bally-up, adenoids, sleep apnea or a deviated septum. 

Nasal congestion from allergies, colds, flus or sinusitis can also lead to open-mouth breathing, leading to a dry throat.

What to do: If you are unsure of why you are sleeping with an open mouth, you should see an ENT specialist for further assessment. Sleep apnea, for example, can be corrected by using a CPAP or surgery in more severe cases. 

4. Excessively using your voice

Excessively using your voice, particularly if you need to speak frequently at work (like teachers or singers) can lead to a dry or scratchy throat. The throat becomes dry due to irritation, swelling, or even vocal cord injury, which will usually present with hoarseness. 

What to do: Generally, symptoms improve within a few days of vocal rest, when the speaking, shouting, singing or whispering are fully put on pause. If the dry throat does not improve or if hoarseness worsens, you should see an ENT specialist to rule out the possibility of a vocal cord injury. See a list of teas for a sore throat that you can make to help speed-up recovery.

5. Cold and flu

A cold and flu can cause a dry, scratchy, irritated or swollen throat. These symptoms are usually caused by a viral infection, like influenza or rhinovirus, which can enter through the nose and travel to the throat. 

In addition to a dry throat, a viral infection can also cause symptoms like coughing, fever, sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose, headaches and body aches. Learn more about the difference between a cold and a flu.

What to do: You should keep the body hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and prioritizing rest. The doctor may also recommend analgesic, anti-inflammatory or decongestant medications, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or loratadine to relieve symptoms. 

Learn about home remedies for the cold and flu that can help promote a speedy recovery. 

6. Tonsillitis

A dry throat can also be a sign of tonsillitis, or a tonsil infection. The tonsils can become infected with viruses (like rhinovirus or influenza) or bacteria (like Streptococcus pyogenes).

In addition to a dry throat, patients may experience a scratchy throat, intense sore throat, difficulty swallowing, high-grade fever and pus in the throat.

What to do: Treatment for tonsillitis should be directed by a doctor, who may prescribe analgesics and anti-inflammatories (e.g. acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to relieve symptoms. Antibiotics, like amoxicillin, azithromycin, clindamycin or cephalosporin, may be prescribe to cure a bacterial infection. You can also prepare these sore throat home remedies to compliment your medical treatment. 

7. Strep throat

A dry throat can occur due to streptococcus pharyngitis, which is an infection in the pharynx, at the back of the throat. This infection, also known as strep throat, is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, and causes a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, a dry throat, scratchiness or itchiness, and green to yellow phlegm. 

Some patients may additionally experience fever, headaches, general malaise and hoarseness. 

What to do: Treatment for strep pharyngitis varies depending on the presenting symptoms. The doctor may prescribe analgesics and anti-inflammatories to manage symptoms, and antibiotics to eliminate the bacteria. It is also important to get plenty of rest and fluids when recovering. 


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is characterized by the backflow of stomach content up to the mouth. It causes pain, a bitter taste in the mouth, itchy throat, dry throat or irritated throat. Learn more about what causes GERD and the symptoms associated with it.

What to do: Treatment should be outlined by a gastroenterologist, and may involve antacids, stomach protectors and medications that promote gastric emptying. Patients are also advised to adhere to a GERD diet to manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups of symptoms. 

Check-out a list of the GERD medications your doctor may consider to help manage symptoms.

9. Exposure to irritating substances

Exposure to irritating symptoms, like cigarette smoke or air pollution, can irritate the throat and stimulate a chronic inflammation. This can lead to the sensation of a dry throat, even after drinking water, and can interfere with normal saliva production.  

Other symptoms associated with irritating substances include scratchy throat, itchiness, post-nasal drip and sore throat. 

What to do: The best way to prevent symptoms is to avoid exposure to substances the trigger a dry throat. If avoidance is not possible, you can take soothing lozenges with honey, lemon or ginger in their composition. Salt-water gargles may also help to relieve discomfort. 

If you are a smoker, you should see your doctor to discuss smoking cessation strategies.   

10. Excessive alcohol consumption

A dry throat can also occur with excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol can directly irritate the throat upon drinking and can also cause increased stomach acid that can backflow into the throat. 

What to do: You should avoid frequently consuming excessive alcohol. If you have trouble reducing your alcohol intake, you should see your doctor for assistance. 

11. Allergies

An itchiness reaction to a trigger in the air can lead to an irritated to inflamed throat, causing a dry and itchy throat as well as a runny nose, teary eyes and sneezing. 

An allergic reaction can be triggered by dust, pollen and animal fur and promotes the release of histamine in the body, which causes symptoms.

What to do: Treatment for allergies should be oriented by a family doctor, who may recommend anti-histamines to relieve symptoms.

12. Xerostomia

Xerostomia, which is the medical term for a dry mouth, is characterized by the decrease or abnormally low production of saliva. It can dry out the oral mucosas, leading to a dry throat and difficulty eating, swallowing or speaking. 

The dry throat can lead to other symptoms, such as thick saliva, bad breath, dry tongue or mouth ulcers. Xerostomia is typically associated with smoking, stress, anxiety or other health conditions, like anemia, lupus and multiple sclerosis. Learn about other causes of dry mouth and what you can do to relieve it. 

What to do: It is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day to hydrate the oral mucosa and to reduce discomfort. Smokers are also advised to quit smoking.  The doctor may recommend the use of artificial saliva, while other health conditions should be properly managed to reduce dryness. 

Can a dry throat be a sign of COVID-19?

A dry throat is not a common symptom of COVID-19. However, COVID-19 will typically present with throat symptoms like a sore throat, throat redness or irritation, or the sensation of an itchy or scratchy throat. 

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include dry cough, fever and excessive fatigue. It can also cause body aches, headaches, loss of taste or smell, runny nose and a stuff nose. Severe cases can present with difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

When to see a doctor

It is important to consult an ENT specialist or family doctor if your dry throat presents with symptoms such as: 

  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Fever 
  • Dry cough or coughing with blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

It is also important to see a doctor if. your dry throat does not improve within a week or worsenis over time. The doctor will assess your symptoms and initiate treatment as needed.