Dry Throat: At-Home Relief and When to Contact a Doctor

Medically Reviewed By Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP
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A dry throat is characterized by a rough, scratchy, or itchy feeling in the throat. The most common causes of a dry throat include environmental factors, dehydration, allergies, and mild respiratory infections, which are often treatable at home. In rare cases, it can be the result of an underlying illness. A dry throat can occur when mucous membranes dry out and are not able to maintain moistness in the air passages. Many factors can cause this.

A dry or sore throat is not usually serious, and at-home remedies may be effective in quickly treating discomfort.

Read on to learn more about treating a dry throat. This article also covers its causes and diagnosis.

How do you treat a dry throat?

Woman stands and drinks hot tea from a mug with closed eyes
Atolas/Stocksy United

A doctor may prescribe a medical treatment if there is an underlying condition at the root of a dry throat.

However, if your dry throat is the result of a mild cause — such as mild dehydration, an infection, or an environmental factor — an at-home remedy may help.

Stay hydrated

A dry throat or mouth can often be the result of dehydration.

To help prevent further effects of dehydration and treat your dry throat, try the following ways to stay hydrated:

  • Drink plenty of water. Take regular sips throughout the day, and keep some water with you at night.
  • Suck on ice cubes or ice pops.
  • Drink unsweetened beverages.
  • Increase the water content of your diet, such as by consuming low sugar juices, broths, soups, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Coffee and tea can have a dehydrating effect, so consuming these may not help improve your daily intake of liquids.
  • Ensure that you have water available to you at all times, such as before, during, and after exercising.
  • Avoid dehydrating foods, such as those with a high sodium content.

Consume honey and lemon

Certain foods can help soothe the symptoms of a dry throat.

Honey, for example, has antibacterial properties that may help alleviate a dry throat due to a bacterial infection. It may also help with viral infections.

You can dissolve honey in warm water to drink, which also improves hydration.

However, keep in mind that honey is not safe for children under 1 year old.

Lemon can also provide vitamins to help support immune function and help break up the mucus that may present with respiratory infections that irritate the throat.

Increase the humidity

Dry air can irritate the throat. Slightly increasing the environmental humidity around you can keep the air moist. This is possible with a humidifier or by steaming the room with heated water.

Steam inhalation may also help with a dry throat. To try this, pour a basin of hot water and allow the steam to pass through the nose and mouth by breathing over it normally. Do this for up to 15 minutes.

Take care when handling hot water to avoid burns and scalding. Also, do not inhale steam if you have heart failure.

Try a saltwater gargle

Gargling a mild solution of salt dissolved in water may help ease pain in the throat and kill bacteria during an infection.

Mix half a teaspoon or a couple of grams of salt into 8 ounces of warm water. Gargle the solution for a while, then spit it out.

Reduce environmental triggers

If your dry throat is due to seasonal allergies such as hay fever or other environmental irritants, such as pollution or emissions from cooking, reducing particles in the air may reduce irritation.

For hay fever, relief methods can include:

  • putting Vaseline around the nostrils to prevent the inhalation of pollen
  • taking a shower and changing your clothes after being outside
  • shutting the windows and doors when possible
  • vacuuming often and purchasing a HEPA filter for the vacuum
  • dusting regularly with a damp cloth
  • buying a pollen filter for your car
  • avoiding grass, particularly cut grass
  • not keeping fresh flowers inside
  • not drying clothes outside
  • making sure that pets do not carry pollen inside
  • reducing unnecessary time spent outside

A 2019 study of in-home air emissions also suggests that mechanical ventilation and regular cleaning in the home may help protect against indoor air emissions.

Try an over-the-counter treatment

Certain over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help alleviate a sore throat.

These can include:

  • pain relievers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • lozenges containing local anesthetic, antiseptic, or anti-inflammatory drugs
  • anesthetic sprays, though there is little evidence to suggest that these can treat sore throats
  • antihistamine drops, tablets, or nasal sprays

Use these treatments only under the guidance of a doctor or pharmacist.

Certain OTC treatments are not suitable for children.

When to contact a doctor for a dry throat

In some cases, a dry throat may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that needs immediate evaluation by a doctor. 

Seek urgent medical care for anyone with a dry throat alongside other serious symptoms, including:

You should also contact a doctor for symptoms or illnesses that do not improve with a few days of at-home treatment.

Additional symptoms you experience with a dry throat will depend on the underlying cause.

Symptoms from the respiratory system

Other symptoms from the respiratory system that you may experience alongside a dry throat include:

Non-respiratory symptoms

A dry throat may also present alongside symptoms from other bodily areas, including:

What causes a dry throat?

A dry throat can occur due to the drying out of the mucous membranes or because of other sources of irritation. A number of possible factors can contribute.

COVID-19

A 2021 observational study of COVID-19 revealed that out of 211 studied cases, one of the most common symptoms was a dry mouth and throat.

Infections besides SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, can also cause a dry or sore throat as the throat becomes inflamed or irritated. These can include the common cold, the flu, strep throat, glandular fever, and infectious causes of tonsillitis and laryngitis.

Behavioral habits

Certain behaviors can irritate the throat and cause a sore or dry sensation. Examples include smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, alcohol consumption and drug use, and straining the voice.

Allergies

Seasonal allergies such as hay fever can cause an irritated or dry throat. This is due to pollen or spores that may cause an allergic reaction.

Environmental conditions

Conditions of the air we breathe in may also lead to throat irritation.

For example, a 2019 study of home air quality in China observed that factors such as new furniture, gas cooking, burning, proximity to major roads, and other sources of air pollution could cause throat-related symptoms.

Additionally, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (ACAAI) explains that breathing in air that is drier than that in the body may cause a sore throat by dehydrating the airways.

Dehydration

Being dehydrated may cause a dry throat.

Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough fluid for its functions. This can result in symptoms such as a dry throat, mouth, tongue, or lips.

Breathing habits

Habits you have when breathing may create conditions that cause a sore or dry throat.

For example, one 2020 review observed that mouth breathing could change the humidity of the back of your throat. Factors such as snoring may also irritate the throat.

Exercise

The ACAAI suggests that quickly breathing in dry air while exercising may cause symptoms such as an irritated throat.

Exercise may also lead to other causes of a dry throat, such as becoming dehydrated after exercising or sweating a lot or breathing with your mouth while exercising.

Medication side effects

Almost all medications have side effects, and certain medications may cause a dry mouth or throat as a side effect.

Check the information on the medication package or contact your doctor to learn about the side effects of any medications you may be taking.

Underlying conditions

Less often, a dry throat may be a symptom or result of an underlying injury or illness.

These causes of a dry or painful throat can include:

Diagnosing the cause of a dry throat

A doctor may ask about the presentation, duration, and history of your symptoms, as well as your medical history and whether or not you are currently receiving any treatments for another condition.

If your doctor suspects a more severe underlying illness as the cause of your dry throat, they may order further tests. These will depend on your symptoms and any indications the doctor has about what bodily system the possible illness may relate to.

Investigative methods for underlying conditions may include:

Outlook

Dry throats can be common, and they are not typically concerning. In some cases, a dry throat may improve without treatment.

However, because a dry throat can, in rare cases, be due to a serious disease or injury, not seeking treatment for persistent symptoms can result in serious complications.

Potential complications of further illness can include:

FAQs

Here are some common questions people ask about dry throat, answered by Avi Varma, M.D.

Why is my throat dry even when I drink water?

Dehydration is a common cause of a dry throat. This is treatable with increased water intake. However, there are other causes of a dry throat, including seasonal or environmental allergies, cigarette smoking, and upper respiratory infections. These other causes may require treatment with medications, such as antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays, or lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding smoking.

Is a dry, scratchy throat a symptom of COVID-19?

A dry, scratchy throat more often indicates seasonal or environmental allergies. It can still be a symptom of COVID-19. However, with COVID-19 — especially the Omicron variant — more people typically present with a dry, sore throat.

How long does a dry throat last?

The duration of a dry throat depends on the cause of the symptom. If the cause is mild dehydration, a dry throat can resolve pretty quickly with increased water intake. However, if a dry throat is due to an upper respiratory infection, the symptom can last several days to a few weeks.

Summary

A dry throat can result from environmental triggers, certain behaviors, mild infections, or, in rare cases, a serious disease.

In mild cases, at-home treatment can be very effective in reducing discomfort.

For symptoms that do not improve with at-home care or severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, contact a doctor as soon as possible.

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Medical Reviewer: Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP
Last Review Date: 2022 May 11
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  • Sore throats. (n.d.). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/ear-nose-throat/conditions/sore-throats.aspx
  • Steam inhalation. (n.d.). https://www.nhsfife.org/media/35666/steam-inhalation-leaflet.pdf
  • Symptoms & causes of GER & GERD. (2020). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes
  • Symptoms of COVID-19. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  • Tonsillitis. (2021). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/ears-nose-and-throat/tonsillitis
  • What is sepsis? (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/what-is-sepsis.html
  • What you need to know about mucus ahead of flu season. (n.d.). https://www.portneuf.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-mucus-ahead-of-flu-season
  • Dry mouth. (2021). https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dry-mouth
  • Dry mouth. (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dry-mouth/
  • Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). (n.d.). https://acaai.org/asthma/types-of-asthma/exercise-induced-bronchoconstriction-eib/
  • Fan, C., et al. (2020). Alternations in oral–nasal–pharyngeal microbiota and salivary proteins in mouth-breathing children. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/pmc/articles/PMC7586306/
  • Hay fever. (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/
  • How to stay hydrated for better health. (2021). https://www.ncoa.org/article/how-to-stay-hydrated-for-better-health
  • Is your snoring really sleep apnea? A guide to sleep apnea and how it can impact your health [Blog]. (2019). https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2019/december/is-your-snoring-really-sleep-apnea
  • Manchanda, R. K., et al. (2021). Homeopathic remedies in COVID-19: Prognostic factor research [Abstract]. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33930904/
  • Norbäck, D., et al. (2019). Home environment and health: Domestic risk factors for rhinitis, throat symptoms and non-respiratory symptoms among adults across China [Abstract]. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719321023
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. (n.d.). https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/obstructive-sleep-apnea/
  • Rabold, E., et al. (2019). Rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/posttravel-evaluation/rapid-diagnostic-tests-for-infectious-diseases
  • Respiratory tract infections (RTIs). (2021). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/respiratory-tract-infection/
  • Sah, P., et al. (2021). Asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection: A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2109229118
  • Smith, C. (2022). 6 at-home remedies to ease your sore throat [Blog]. https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/february/sore-throat
  • Sore throat. (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/sore-throat.html
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  • Sore throats. (n.d.). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/ear-nose-throat/conditions/sore-throats.aspx
  • Steam inhalation. (n.d.). https://www.nhsfife.org/media/35666/steam-inhalation-leaflet.pdf
  • Symptoms & causes of GER & GERD. (2020). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes
  • Symptoms of COVID-19. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  • Tonsillitis. (2021). https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/ears-nose-and-throat/tonsillitis
  • What is sepsis? (2021). https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/what-is-sepsis.html
  • What you need to know about mucus ahead of flu season. (n.d.). https://www.portneuf.org/what-you-need-to-know-about-mucus-ahead-of-flu-season