Dry Throat: At-Home Relief and When to Contact a Doctor
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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:
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty swallowing
- blood in the saliva or phlegm
- joint swelling and pain
- a rash
- excessive drooling (in children)
- appetite loss
- unintentional or unexplained weight loss
- bleeding in the digestive tract, as evidenced by the presence of blood in the stool or vomit
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:
- a cough
- a congested or runny nose
- difficulty breathing or breathlessness
- a hoarse voice
- swollen or red tonsils, possibly with white patches or pus
- itchiness in the nose, mouth, eyes, ears, or throat
A dry throat may also present alongside symptoms from other bodily areas, including:
- a general feeling of malaise
- a fever
- muscle aches
- swollen lymph nodes at the front of the neck
- conjunctivitis, or pink eye
- red, watery, swollen, or puffy eyes
- chest pain
- difficulty swallowing or painful swallowing
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.
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.
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.
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.
Habits you have when breathing may create conditions that cause a sore or dry throat.
The ACAAI suggests that quickly breathing in dry air while exercising may cause symptoms such as an irritated throat.
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.
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:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- some blood disorders, such as leukemia and aplastic anemia
- oral mucositis
- laryngitis from the overuse of the voice box
- treatment for another condition, such as a nasogastric tube
- sleep apnea
- an illness that causes vomiting or excessive coughing
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:
- a physical examination
- blood tests
- esophageal pH monitoring
- a rapid diagnostic test, such as lateral flow testing, for possible infectious diseases
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:
- secondary conditions, such as rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, quinsy, or obstructive sleep apnea
- further infections
- adverse drug reactions
- death or irreversible bodily damage
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.
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.