Almost everyone experiences the nuisance of an itchy throat from time to time. Itchy throats are a very common sign of hay fever and other allergies or may be an early sign of a viral or bacterial infection.
Most of the time, itchy throats can be managed with simple over-the-counter (OTC) treatments and home remedies.
Irritated itchy throats can be caused by a wide variety of factors. Likely causes of an itchy throat include the following:
A common cause of itchy throat is allergic rhinitis, which is also known as hay fever.
Also known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis may be one of the most common causes of an itchy throat. As many as 40 to 60 million Americans are affected by it.
Allergic rhinitis happens when the body overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance, releasing a chemical called histamine that causes these overreactions.
Common triggers include pollen, dander, dust, and irritants such as cigarette smoke or exhaust fumes.
Allergic reactions to food happen when the body reacts to certain things we eat as if they were going to harm the body. Reactions generally develop within minutes or a few hours after consuming the trigger food.
The allergy may be mild with symptoms stopping with an itchy throat or mouth. However, they can be life-threatening.
Common trigger foods include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat.
Many people suffer from allergies to certain medications including penicillin and other antibiotics. The severity of the allergy will range from mild to life-threatening.
Symptoms of a drug allergy can include an itchy throat that starts shortly after taking a new medication.
Bacterial and viral infections
Strep throat or bacterial cases of tonsillitis may start with an itchy throat before progressing to a more severe sore throat.
Viruses such as the common cold or the flu virus can both cause an itchy throat.
If it is just a cold, the itchy throat is unlikely to progress past being mildly sore. If a person has a flu infection, their throat soreness will be more severe and accompanied by fever, body aches, and chest discomfort.
Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. It is common during hot weather, after exercise, or during illness.
Dehydration can cause a dry mouth, a temporary condition where the mouth and throat don’t have enough saliva. This may cause an itchy feeling in the throat.
A symptom of itchy throat may be stomach acid that enters the food pipe, also known as heartburn.
Also known as heartburn, some people with chronic acid reflux experience throat problems. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid backs up from the stomach into the food pipe.
An itchy or sore throat is unlikely to be the only symptom of reflux. However, some people have a condition called silent reflux and may only notice a chronic, itchy throat as a symptom.
Itchy throats caused by allergic rhinitis may be accompanied by any combination of the following symptoms:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sinus pressure
- itchy eyes and skin
- swollen, red, or watery eyes
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol as well as drinking plenty of water may help to prevent itchy throat.
There are steps that those prone to an itchy throat can take to prevent one from occurring. These steps vary based on the cause of the itchy throat.
Most people will find that they can reduce the risk of an itchy throat if they do the following:
drink plenty of water
avoid caffeine and alcohol
wash hands frequently during cold and flu season
avoid opening windows and going outside during allergy season