Itchy Throat: Top 10 Causes & Treatment

Updated in August 2023

An itchy throat can be caused by allergies, exposure to irritating substances, infections, and other situations that are relatively easy to treat. It may also be a sign of a health condition, like GERD, a cold or even medication side effects.

Itchy throats are often occurs accompanied by a dry cough, as coughing is a defense mechanism the body employs to protect the throat from a possibly irritating stimulant. Other symptoms that can occur with an itchy throat include a sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing. 

You should see a doctor if you itchy throat does not resolve within a few days, if it progressively worsens, or if it presents with symptoms like a worsening cough, dizziness, shortness of breath, tearing eyes or skin itching. 

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What causes an itchy throat?

An itchy throat can occur as a result of:

1. Allergies

Allergies can cause a reaction that stimulates allergic rhinitis. This condition can cause symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, dry cough, and itchy nose or throat. This condition usually emerges after contact with allergic substances, like dust, animal fur, pollen or some plants, and is most frequent in the spring and fall. 

Treatment: There is no cure for allergic rhinitis, but symptoms can be managed with anti-histamines like loratadine or cetirizine or by performing a nasal irrigation with saline. You should avoid contact with the substances that triggered the allergy symptoms. 

2. Dehydration

Dehydration is characterized by an insufficient quantity of water in the body due to factors like decreased fluid intake, diarrhea, vomiting, prolonged exposure in the sun or excess sweating. Dehydration can cause symptoms like an itchy throat, thirst, decreased urine output, low blood pressure, or dry mouth, skin or eyes. In more serious cases, it can increase heart rate and cause dizziness. 

Treatment: Treatment involves increasing intake of isotonic drinks and solutions with hydrating salts. These can be found in pharmacies. You can also make your own saline solution by mixing 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 liter of hot water. Once cooled, you can drink this throughout the day. You can also eat foods with high water content, like watermelon, oranges or pineapple. 

3. Food allergy 

A food allergy is characterized by an exaggerated inflammatory response to a specific substance that is found in food. Inflammation can affect various parts of the body, like the mouth, eyelids and tongue, which can make breathing more difficult. 

Allergies to medication is very similar to food allergies, however the allergic substance is usually more easily identified as the allergy response is typically much quicker. 

Treatment: Treatment consists of the administration of antihistamines like loratadine or cetirizine, or steroids like prednisone. In serious cases, medications alone may not be sufficient and you should proceed to the emergency room immediately, as the allergy and evolve into an anaphylactic shock. 

It is important to complete food allergy testing so that any triggering food can be avoided in the future. 

4. Exposure to irritating substances 

Exposure to irritating substances like tobacco smoke, smoke from car exhaust pipes, cleaning products or other toxic substances can irritate the throat, causing itching and coughing. 

Treatment: Avoiding exposure to substances that trigger your itchy throat is the best way to prevent this symptom. If avoidance is not possible, you can suck on soothing throat lozenges that contain honey, lemon or ginger, or perform throat rinses by gargling a water and salt solution. 

5. Cold or tonsil infection

Some respiratory infections, like a tonsil infection, pharyngitis or a cold, can leave your throat itchy before developing into more serious symptoms, like pain and local inflammation. Other symptoms may include runny nose, coughing, fever, ear itching, chills and discomfort. 

Treatment: Treatment will depend on the type of infection that is present. For a bacterial pharyngitis or tonsil infection, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics like amoxicillin, erythromycin or penicillin, as well as analgesics or anti-inflammatories to help with the pain and inflammation, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Treatment of a flu or viral pharyngitis is aimed at managing symptoms like inflammation, pain and fever with analgesics, anti-inflammatories and antipyretics, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. 

It may be necessary to treat allergies with anti-histamines, or a cough, whether it is dry or productive, with medicine. Check out our natural remedies for treatment of coughs at home. 

6. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) 

GERD is characterized by the back-up of stomach content into the esophagus toward the mouth. It causes symptoms like pain, foul taste, and in some cases, itchy throat, due to irritation from stomach acid. It occurs when muscles at the bottom of the esophagus that block acid are not functioning appropriately.  

Treatment: Treatment for GERD consists of taking antacids to neutralize stomach acid to avoid the burning sensation in the esophagus. Prokinetics can also be taken to speed-up stomach emptying, which reduces the time that food stays in the stomach. Learn more about the GERD diet your doctor may recommend to help manage symptoms. 

7. Medication side-effects 

Some medications can result in an itchy throat as a side-effect. This should not be confused for an allergic reaction. This is actually a frequent symptom in people who take ACE-inhibitors to lower blood pressure. 

Treatment: Usually this side-effect subsides over time. However, if it causes a lot of discomfort, you can discuss swapping the medication for an alternative with your doctor. To relieve the itching, you can swallow a spoon of honey, rinse your throat with salt-water gargles, or drink a lemon and ginger tea. 

8. Dry air or air conditioning

When the air we breathe is dry or cold, the lining of the throat tends to lose moisture, leading to dryness and irritation. This can cause and itchy throat, as well as a dry cough, post-nasal drip or even hoarseness. 

Using air conditioning can also dry out an environment, leading to throat irritation and other symptoms. 

Treatment: You should ideally avoid air conditioned environments and exposure to very dry air. Be sure to drink plenty of water and to use a humidifier as needed to moisten the air. 

9. Excessive alcohol or caffeine intake

An itchy throat can also be caused by excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption. Alcohol can directly irritate the throat, while caffeine can irritate the stomach and relax the esophageal sphincter. This can lead to reflux or a backflow of stomach content into the throat. 

Treatment: You should avoid frequent or excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeinated drinks. If you are suffering from alcohol abuse, you should see a doctor for assessment and treatment. 

10. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is characterized by an inflammation of the nasal cavities. These are small cavities within the cranium, around the nose and eyes. It is generally triggered by allergies or viral, bacterial or fungal functions, which lead to the accumulation of discharge within the nose. 

The build-up of discharge in the nose can then cause a post-nasal drip into the throat, giving rise to other symptoms, like itchiness, coughing, or irritation.

Treatment: Treatment for sinusitis usually involves prescription medications like analgesics, anti-inflammatory, decongestants or antibiotics. To complement this treat, the doctor can also recommend nasal irrigations to help thin out nasal discharge and help to relieve symptoms. 

Learn more about natural treatment for sinusitis that you can use to speed-up recovery.