Common Causes of an Itchy Throat and How to Relieve It

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Everybody gets an itchy throat at some point. Allergies are the most common cause, but there are other reasons why your throat might itch. Home remedies and antihistamine medications can usually relieve allergy-related throat symptoms. Whether it’s a little scratchiness or a full-blown case of hives, an itchy throat can be irritating and uncomfortable.

An itchy throat is not usually a serious health concern and often goes away without professional medical care. Many people can treat an itchy throat at home with available remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antihistamines.

However, it can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious condition. A prompt diagnosis is the first step to finding an effective treatment. 

This article will discuss itchy throat, including its causes, treatment, and more.

Itchy throat explained

Male looking thoughtfully with hand rested near chin
Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images

An itchy throat is a subjective feeling, a symptom that makes you want to scratch it. An itchy throat may also be described as a “tickle” in the throat.

Your throat may be dry or you may have an abundance of mucus. Either scenario can lead to repeated coughing or clearing your throat. Alongside a cough, you might also swallow repeatedly to help relieve the itchiness or get rid of extra mucus.

An itchy throat is not usually painful, but it may occur alongside a sore throat. Additionally, people may use the term “scratchy throat” to describe a sore, dry, or itchy throat.

Learn about possible causes of sore throat.

Allergies

Allergies come in many forms, such as food allergies, seasonal allergies, and pet allergies. They can cause several symptoms, such as:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • watery, itchy eyes
  • itchy throat
  • itchy ears

Doctors may diagnose allergies by taking your medical history and asking about your symptoms. They may perform a full physical examination, including looking at your throat. They may also conduct allergy tests, such as a skin patch test, to check what you may be allergic to.

You can treat allergies by avoiding the allergen. Taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as antihistamines, can help reduce your symptoms.

Learn about allergy treatments.

Sometimes, an itchy throat or mouth is a symptom of a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis. These reactions require immediate medical attention. Common causes of anaphylaxis include:

  • foods
  • medications
  • venom from certain stinging insects
  • latex

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy, and is potentially life threatening. 

Symptoms can come on quickly and include: 

If you or someone around you develops these symptoms, you should: 

  1. Check to see whether they have an epinephrine pen. If they do, read and follow the instructions to dispense the medication.
  2. Dial 911 (or a local emergency number).
  3. Lay them down. If they have vomited, lay them on their side. 
  4. Stay with them until emergency services arrive. 

It is possible for someone to need more than one injection with an epinephrine pen. If symptoms do not begin to clear after 5 minutes, give a second injection if one is available.

Inhaled irritants

Irritants, such as smoke and chemical products, can cause inflammation of the skin or mucous membranes. In turn, this can cause symptoms such as:

If you suspect an irritant is causing symptoms, take steps to avoid contact with it as much as possible. This may include:

  • opening windows or doors to improve ventilation
  • drinking a glass of water or milk to moisten the throat
  • gargling with warm salt water a few times per hour

If your symptoms do not resolve after these remedies, consult your doctor.

Exposure to irritants can harm other mucous membranes, such as your eyes. Inhaling irritants can also damage your lungs. If throat itchiness accompanies difficulty breathing, get immediate medical attention by calling 911.

Dry air

Dry air may dry out the mucous membranes lining the throat, which can be irritating. Symptoms that may accompany an itchy throat due to dryness include:

Acid reflux

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as heartburn and nausea. If the stomach contents reach the throat, acid reflux can also cause an itchy throat and cough.

Doctors may identify acid reflux as a cause of itchy throat by reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They may also perform tests to confirm a diagnosis of acid reflux, including an upper endoscopy. Learn how doctors diagnose acid reflux.

If you have acid reflux and itchy throat symptoms, you may be able to treat your symptoms at home. Dietary changes, antacids, or histamine-2 (H2) blockers may help reduce your symptoms. Antacids (Tums, Pepto Bismol, others), work by neutralizing the acid. H2 blockers (Pepcid, Zantac, others) work by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach. If these don’t relieve your symptoms, consult your doctor about a treatment plan.

Medications

In addition to allergic reactions, some medications can cause a dry, itchy, scratchy throat. This irritation is usually temporary. However, if it persists after stopping the medication, contact your doctor.

Itchy throat and COVID-19 symptoms

An itchy throat is not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) COVID-19 symptom list. A sore throat, fever, and cough are common symptoms of COVID-19.

However, a study from early 2020 notes a person who reported itchy throat and chills as their first symptoms.

An itchy throat is unlikely to occur due to COVID-19. It is more likely to be due to allergies. If you have concerns about your symptoms, contact a medical professional.

Itchy throat home remedies

The following home remedies may help relieve an itchy throat:

  • Drink plenty of warm water to moisten your throat.
  • Suck on throat lozenges, which can temporarily relieve dryness and irritation.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home or office.
  • Gargle with warm salt water several times per day.
  • Take OTC antihistamines.
  • Eat soft, cooling foods like yogurt to soothe your throat.
  • Eat a tablespoon of raw honey in the morning.

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with basic care at home.

You should contact your doctor straight away for an itchy throat accompanying these symptoms:

Get immediate help by calling 911 if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:

Diagnosing an itchy throat

Doctors may identify the cause of an itchy throat by reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They will then perform a physical examination of your throat, nose, and ears. This can help them see any signs of inflammation, such as redness or swelling.

To rule out infection, your doctor may conduct tests, such as blood tests and throat swabs.

Keeping your throat healthy

Here are some tips to keep your throat healthy and prevent itching:

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids every day.
  • Use a humidifier at home and other indoor places where you spend a significant amount of time.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid substances that may irritate your throat such as fumes from cleaning products.

Frequently asked questions

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., M.S.N., reviewed the following questions.

How do I get rid of a tickle in my throat?

You can try home remedies, such as gargling with salt water or taking OTC medication. Adding moisture to the air in your living and working space may also help.

What causes a tickly cough?

A tickly cough is often caused by irritation at the back of your throat. This can occur due to postnasal drip or asthma from allergies, inhaled irritants, and other factors.

Summary

Allergies are the most common cause of an itchy throat. However, medications, acid reflux, and dry air can also cause an itchy throat. 

An itchy throat is not usually a serious health concern. It may respond to warm salt water and OTC antihistamines. Increasing the humidity in your living and working space may help relieve itchiness due to dryness. 

An itchy throat can be a symptom of anaphylaxis. Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention for breathing difficulty or swelling of the mouth, lips, or face.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 28
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