Why Your Throat Can Get Itchy—And How to Relieve It

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That itchy, scratchy feeling in the back of your throat may have you wondering whether you’re developing the first sign of a cold or if you just haven’t had enough water for the day. 

While it can be pretty uncomfortable, an itchy throat is typically not a cause for concern and can usually be treated at home fairly easily. 

What Causes an Itchy Throat? 

There are several reasons why your throat may be itchy. Depending on the cause, the scratchiness can go away by itself in a few days or might need extra care.  

Allergies

An itchy throat is commonly a sign of an allergic reaction, which means you’ve come into contact with a substance that triggers your body’s immune system. Outdoor irritants, foods, and medications can all trigger an allergic reaction and bring on an itchy throat.  

If you aren’t aware of having any allergies, it can be difficult to tell whether it’s an allergy or an illness that is causing the itchy throat. Two ways to differentiate is that allergies often last longer than an illness, and an allergen-caused itchy throat usually don’t come with a fever.

If your itchy throat is due to allergies, you might also notice other symptoms including a stuffy or runny nose, itchy eyes, wheezing, headache, and sneezing. A healthcare provider can help determine if you have an allergy and, if so, what it is.

Hay Fever 

If you’re one of the 40 to 60 million adults in the U.S. who lives with hay fever, this specific type of allergic reaction may be to blame for your itchy throat.

Medically known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever happens when you come into contact with outdoor irritants like pollen, dander, and grass that trigger your immune system. For some people, hay fever just crops up seasonally. But for others, these uncomfortable symptoms can happen year-round. 

In addition to the itchy throat, hay fever often comes along with a runny nose, congestion, and watery eyes. While these symptoms are sometimes mistaken for the common cold, if your scratchy throat is lasting for a month or more, it’s likely a red flag for hay fever. 


Oral Allergy Syndrome

If you are allergic to pollen, you might also experience oral allergy syndrome. This is a type of food allergy that is also known as pollen fruit syndrome. When someone with oral allergy syndrome eats a raw fruit or vegetable, they can develop an itchy throat. The itchy throat usually appears immediately upon contact, but it can take up to a half hour to develop.

Besides an itchy throat, other symptoms of oral allergy syndrome include swelling of the throat as well as itchiness or swelling of the mouth, face, lip, and tongue.

Oral allergy syndrome happens because of how similar certain fruit and vegetable proteins are to proteins in pollen. The similarity can confuse the immune system, causing an allergic reaction. If you’re already experiencing seasonal allergies from pollen, eating raw fruits and vegetables can make your already-existing allergies worse.

Viral and Bacterial Infections

When it’s an infection causing an irritated throat, it’s more likely a viral infection than a bacterial infection. That means a virus like a cold, flu, or COVID-19 is causing throat changes. Sore throat cases that are more severe tend to be bacteria-caused, such as strep throat. 

Additional symptoms will vary based on the specific illness. But in general, if an illness is the cause, you can expect your itchy throat to soon progress to other more intense symptoms, like fever, fatigue, cough, sore throat, and congestion. 

With these illnesses, symptoms usually last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. 

Dry Air

The temperature and humidity levels in your environment can affect your body’s mucous membranes. This means the lining of your throat has the potential to feel itchy or scratchy, particularly during the winter and summer months when the heating and air conditioning are more likely to be going constantly. 

Digestive Issues

There’s also a chance your itchy throat might be prompted by common digestive conditions, like acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). With these conditions, stomach acid can creep up the esophagus. 

The contents being brought back up your digestive tract can impact your throat. You’ll likely notice other symptoms like heartburn, the taste of food or stomach acid as your food comes back up, nausea, or chest pain. 

Certain Medications

An itchy throat might be an allergic reaction to a medication. For instance, if you are receiving chemotherapy and develop itching of the throat, that may signal you are experiencing an allergic reaction. Other signs of an allergic reaction from chemotherapy include swelling of the mouth or throat and trouble swallowing. 

An itchy throat may also be a side effect of medications. There has been documentation that angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which are used to treat heart disease, can cause an itchy throat. 

ACE inhibitors are taken orally but can produce a tickling sensation in the throat because the drug can cause irritation of the upper airways. This irritation is believed to happen because the inhibitors can cause a build-up of inflammatory substances.

Remedies for Throat Irritation

Once you figure out the cause of your itchy throat, you can better determine how to get rid of it. 

Usually, an itchy throat can be successfully managed with over-the-counter (OTC) and home remedies, especially if your discomfort is mild or you know that you’ve experienced allergies in the past.  But keep in mind that the best course of action can vary a bit based on the specific cause of throat scratchiness. 

For example, you might consider:

  • Gargling with salt water to relieve discomfort
  • Using lozenges and cough drops to soothe the throat area
  • Trying a nasal spray to target any inflammation 
  • Sipping on hot tea with lemon and honey
  • Eating a spoonful of honey to coat the back of your throat
  • Snacking on cool treats, like a popsicle or ice cream 
  • Taking OTC cold and flu medications for a definite viral cause of itchy throat
  • Using OTC allergy medications and nasal sprays if you know that your itchy throat cause is allergies
  • Trying a humidifier or shower steam session to decrease dry or scratchy throat irritation 

How to Prevent an Itchy Throat 

An itchy throat isn’t always possible to prevent.

But if you know, for example, that you tend to experience seasonal allergies or are entering into cold and flu season, you can follow these steps to try to prevent a scratchy throat in the future:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dry out the sinuses.
  • Avoid smoke exposure to limit potential irritation.
  • Wash your hands frequently, particularly during peak illness seasons or situations.
  • Keep windows closed when outdoor allergens are in bloom.
  • Avoid contact with any other known allergy triggers.

When to Visit a Healthcare Provider 

Fortunately, an itchy throat is usually not a cause for alarm, so a healthcare provider visit isn’t always merited. But here’s where you’ll need to use your best judgment. 

If your itchy throat and any accompanying symptoms seem to be getting worse or are not responding to any at-home care treatments, it’s likely time to call a healthcare provider. They may want to have you tested for throat-related illnesses like strep throat or another medical condition. 

Seek medical attention immediately if your itchy throat is happening with any of the following symptoms, as these could be the signs of a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Hives

A Quick Review

Most itchy throats are due to a condition like hay fever or the common cold. But there are also several other reasons you might be experiencing a scratchy throat, like dry air, certain medications, and even digestive issues. 

Typically, using OTC medications like antihistamines, drinking plenty of warm fluids, and trying throat lozenges are good options for relieving an itchy throat. But it’s still a good idea to check with a healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t start to resolve or get worse. 

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Sources
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