Itchy Throat: 7 Common Causes & What to Do

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
February 2022
  1. Dehydration
  2. Allergies
  3. Food allergy 
  4. Irritating substances 
  5. Cold or infections
  6. GERD
  7. Medications

An itchy throat can occur for many reasons, like allergies, exposure to irritating substances, infection, and other situations that are relatively easy to treat. 

Coughing often occurs with an itchy throat as it the body’s defense mechanism against an irritating stimulant. Other symptoms like throat inflammation and runny nose can also occur. 

Generally, the most common causes of itchy throat are: 

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1. 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. 

What to do: 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. 

2. Allergic rhinitis 

Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal lining that is triggered by an allergic reaction. It 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. 

What to do: 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. 

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. 

What to do: 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. 

What to do: 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. 

What to do: 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.  

What to do: 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 how GERD can be treated. 

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. 

What to do: 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. 

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Written and updated by Daisy Oliveira - Registered Nurse on February of 2022. Medical review by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor, on February of 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.