An itchy mouth is a common, though sometimes alarming, symptom that many people experience. Itchy mouth can be caused by viral or fungal infections, as well as allergies to food, pollen, latex, medications, and more. If it’s caused by allergies, itchy mouth is often referred to as oral allergy syndrome.
While some causes of itchy mouth can be mild, others can be life-threatening.
Depending on the cause, you might experience a range of symptoms with an itchy mouth, including:
- burning or tingling sensation in your mouth, tongue, or throat
- swollen tongue, lips, or throat
- itching or crawling sensation in one or both ear canals
- runny nose
- dry cough
- watery eyes
While itchy mouth symptoms can remain mild and never progress past your mouth or head, they could also indicate a dangerous allergic reaction.
There are several reasons why your mouth might be itching. Some of these include:
If you’re experiencing an itchy mouth, you could be allergic to a specific food or pollen. It’s possible that you might have oral allergy syndrome, also known as pollen-food syndrome, a condition that usually begins during teen and adult years. Oral allergy syndrome can even occur when you eat food that you might have eaten with no previous problem.
Oral allergy syndrome is the most common kind of food allergy. Its symptoms include:
- itching and tingling in and around your mouth, tongue, and throat
- swelling of the tissues in and around your mouth
- odd taste in your mouth
- itching ear canals
While symptoms can be mild and often don’t last more than 20 minutes, they may sometimes escalate into a more dangerous anaphylactic reaction, which is a medical emergency.
Oral allergy syndrome is thought to occur when proteins in certain foods are similar to the allergenic proteins found in certain types of pollen, like grasses, birch, mug wort, or ragweed. Some people who have seasonal allergies may experience oral allergy syndrome after eating certain raw vegetables, nuts, uncooked fruits, or spices. This is called cross-reactivity. In these cases, your immune system is detecting similarities between the pollen and food proteins.
Cold sores, or fever blisters, are sores that form around the outside of your mouth, usually on or around your lips. They’re caused by herpes simplex virus and are highly contagious. Cold sores are usually small but several may be clustered together.
If you tend to get cold sores, you could also experience itchy mouth. Before the blisters appear, many people experience itching and tingling around their lips.
Cold sores begin as small blisters filled with fluid that form near your mouth, cheeks, and nose. They break, crust over, and create a sore that can remain on your mouth for up to two weeks.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction and a medical emergency that requires immediate care. An anaphylactic reaction can begin with itching, tingling, or swelling in the mouth if you’ve been exposed to an allergen. Common causes of anaphylaxis are allergies to:
- the venom of bees, wasps, or other insects
Most of the time, people with allergies only have mild or moderate symptoms when exposed to an allergen. These include runny nose, rash, hives, watery eyes, mild itching, and tingling. However, it’s possible for a mild allergic reaction to escalate into anaphylaxis. This occurs when your body goes into shock.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include:
- tight feeling in your throat
- difficulty breathing
- abdominal pain
- low blood pressure
- rapid heart rate
- feeling of impending doom
Some people who experience anaphylaxis go into cardiac arrest, and death can occur.
If you’re experiencing a severe allergic reaction, call 911 immediately. While severe reactions can resolve on their own, they also have the potential to escalate into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening medical condition.
If your mouth is itchy on a regular basis, you might have a yeast infection in your mouth, otherwise known as oral thrush. This is a fungal infection caused by the overgrowth of Candida albicans in the tissues of your mouth. Patches of thrush might appear on your tongue, the insides of your cheeks, tonsils, gums, or the roof of your mouth.
Symptoms of oral thrush include:
- dry mouth
- raised, creamy-colored lesions that look like cottage cheese
- burning or sore sensation
- cracked skin on the outside of the mouth, often in the corners
- muted sense of taste
Older adults, babies, and people with compromised or weakened immune systems are most susceptible to developing oral thrush.
Itchy mouth and throat
If you’re experiencing an itchy mouth and throat, the causes could include:
- severe food allergies
- allergies to medication
- seasonal allergies
- oral thrush
Itchy mouth and lips
If your mouth and lips are itching, the feeling could be caused by:
- cold sores
- oral thrush
- mild food allergies
Itchy mouth after eating
Having an itchy mouth after eating could be caused by:
- mild to severe food allergies
- allergies to medication
- oral allergy syndrome
Treatment for an itchy mouth depends on the cause.
Mild allergic reactions
For mild allergic reactions, symptoms generally go away on their own within a few minutes, either when you spit out the food that caused it, remove yourself from the allergen, or digest the problematic proteins. Sometimes, you may need to take an over-the-counter antihistamine to combat mild symptoms.
Severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis
Severe allergic reactions can be treated with antihistamines, medical attention, and in some cases, epinephrine. People with a history of allergic reactions should always carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them in case of emergency, as this drug can stop or prevent anaphylaxis.
If you’re experiencing a severe allergic reaction, call 911 immediately, even if you’ve self-administered an epinephrine treatment. While severe reactions can resolve on their own, they also have the potential to escalate into anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening medical condition.
Cold sores may be treated topically or through oral medication. In some cases, a doctor may recommend antiviral injections to combat the herpes simplex virus causing the sores. Some typical medications for cold sores include:
- penciclovir (Denavir)
- acyclovir (Zovirax)
- famciclovir (Famvir)
- valacyclovir (Valtrex)
If you have oral thrush, your doctor may prescribe a range of antifungal treatments, depending on your level of health and the severity of the infection. These may come in pill form, as lozenges, or as an antifungal mouthwash.
In some cases, you can prevent your mouth from itching by:
- following your doctor’s treatment recommendations for cold sores and oral thrush
- avoiding allergens, including foods
- cooking fruits and vegetables instead of eating them raw
- avoiding certain medications
- peeling fruits and vegetables
If you suspect you have oral thrush or think you may have a cold sore, make an appointment to see a doctor. It’s also important to see a doctor if you’ve had an allergic reaction to a food or other specific allergen that you can identify. A doctor will be able to prescribe epinephrine for future use and make other recommendations for home treatment for mild reactions.
If you’re having symptoms of allergic reaction but aren’t sure what could be causing them, make an appointment with an allergist. An allergist will be able to administer allergy testing, which can pinpoint your allergens so you can avoid them in the future. You may also receive an epinephrine prescription once you have a diagnosis.
While your itchy mouth may be caused by mild, easy-to-treat conditions, it may be a warning sign for dangerous allergic reactions in the future. You should see a doctor if you’re experiencing an itchy mouth. With the proper diagnosis and treatment, you’ll be prepared to self-treat or get emergency help if and when you need it.