What Causes Throat Irritation?

Conditions list medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA

An itchy throat is a classic sign of allergies, allergic reaction, or early illness. Inhaled irritants can aggravate your throat, causing it to feel scratchy and uncomfortable. Read More

An itchy throat is a classic sign of allergies, allergic reaction, or early illness. Inhaled irritants can aggravate your throat, causing it to feel scratchy and uncomfortable.

What causes an itchy throat?

Allergies are one of the most common causes of an itchy throat. An allergic reaction occurs when a substance called an allergen triggers an immune system response in your body. Examples of common allergy triggers that can cause an itchy throat include:

  • animal dander
  • dust
  • foods, such as peanut butter, dairy, or strawberries
  • mold
  • pollen, found in trees, grass, or ragweed

Allergies can range from mild to severe. An itchy throat can indicate a milder, yet uncomfortable, allergic reaction.

Inhaling pollutants can also lead to an itchy throat. These might include:

  • chemicals
  • cleaning products
  • tobacco smoke or vapor
  • pesticides

Infections, such as a common cold or strep throat, can start as an itchy throat before progressing to soreness and pain.

What are the symptoms of an itchy throat?

An itchy throat may feel:

  • itchy
  • swollen
  • scratchy

An itchy throat feels uncomfortable, and it can feel as if you need to clear your throat frequently. It’s important to distinguish between the symptoms of an itchy throat and similar symptoms that may indicate other conditions. For example, an itchy throat does not feel rough or raw, or make you feel as if you can’t breathe.

When to seek medical help

While an itchy throat isn’t typically a medical emergency, it can be an uncomfortable symptom. If your itchy throat gets worse and is accompanied by wheezing, difficulty breathing, or painful swallowing, get immediate medical attention. Also seek medical care if your symptoms don’t improve with time or home remedies.

A doctor will diagnose the condition causing your itchy throat by first asking about your medical history. They will also ask what occurs when you experience your itchy throat. For example, if your itchy throat occurs after going outside, it could indicate an allergy to outdoor dust or pollen.

If your doctor suspects a food allergy, they may ask you to keep a food journal. In the journal, you’ll track the foods you eat and any symptoms you experience after eating them.

Your doctor also may recommend allergy testing. This can involve exposing the skin to small amounts of known irritants. If the skin reacts to a particular irritant, this indicates an allergy. Some allergy testing can also be done through blood tests.

Common irritants include:

  • pet dander
  • molds
  • grasses
  • pollen
  • dust

To make a diagnosis, your doctor may also examine your throat for:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • other signs of inflammation
  • sinus or nasal drainage

How is an itchy throat treated?

If your itchy throat is related to allergies, an antihistamine can help to block the body’s inflammatory response. Over-the-counter (OCT) antihistamines are available. If they don’t relieve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medicine or one that works in a different way.

How do I care for an itchy throat?

At-home methods for treating your itchy throat include drinking plenty of fluids. You may also want to gargle with warm saltwater and baking soda, which can help relieve inflammation.

Create the gargling solution by adding 1 teaspoon of salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to 8 ounces of warm water.

Using lozenges or throat sprays that have a numbing effect on the throat may also provide relief. These products contain active ingredients including:

  • benzocaine
  • eucalyptus oil
  • menthol

If your itchy throat is caused by an allergen, avoiding that allergen can typically improve symptoms.

How can I prevent an itchy throat?

Avoiding known allergy triggers can help prevent an itchy throat. Take steps to prevent infection, including washing your hands frequently. This can help prevent itchy throat caused by common colds, strep throat, or other infectious causes.

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on October 25, 2016Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN


10 possible conditions

  1. 5

    Allergies

    This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

    Learn about what causes allergies, the different types of allergies, and how they're treated.

    READ MORE

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

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