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Itching throat

Alice,

How do I get rid of an itching throat?

— Choking

Dear Choking,

While you may not be able to scratch this itch, it’s good to start by distinguishing between an itchy throat and a sore throat. An itchy throat is a persistent tickle in the back of the throat which may be triggered by seasonal allergies, and often progresses into a sore throat. A sore throat can be identified by scratchiness or irritation in the throat that may cause discomfort and a raw, prickly, painful sensation every time you swallow. Sore throats are often caused by viral illnesses such as the common cold, flu, or laryngitis; they can also be caused by allergies, dryness, irritants, muscle strain, or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and more. Other viral illnesses that can lead to a sore throat include Mononucleosis–mono for short–, tonsillitis, measles, chickenpox, or COVID-19. There are several strategies you might try to bring relief including drinking hot fluids, using cough drops, or potentially seeing a health care provider to get a prescription.

To avoid getting an itchy throat in the first place, you might try to steer clear of certain things such as dry air, acidic foods, smoking, and lying down immediately after you eat, as these can all worsen and prolong a sore throat. If, however, your itchy throat persists there are plenty of at-home remedies you can try to help heal or relieve the discomfort of an itchy or sore throat. These remedies include:

  • Gargling warm salt water (a quarter teaspoon in four ounces of water) every one to two hours to reduce swelling, irritation, and discomfort in the throat.
  • Drinking hot fluids such as herbal tea to soothe the throat and help thin sinus mucus, which decreases stuffiness and allows for better drainage.
  • Taking over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, throat lozenges, acetaminophen, or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen to relieve throat pain and discomfort.
  • Taking a hot shower—the steam and humidity loosens mucus and can soothe a sore throat.
  • Using a humidifier in the dry winter months to add moisture to the air, especially overnight.
  • Rest by sitting propped up in bed or a chair to alleviate pain and discomfort and prevent the swelling from worsening.

A sore throat caused by a viral infection will most often resolve on its own, especially with the implementation of the aforementioned remedies. However, a sore throat is sometimes a symptom of a more serious condition, such as a bacterial infection. If you develop a fever over 101 degrees, if your fever and sore throat persist for more than a few days, if you have difficulty swallowing, breathing, or sleeping, or if you develop a red rash on your skin, you may want to talk with a health care professional. They will be able to determine the cause of your symptoms and recommend a course of treatment that can better address your concerns.

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Last updated Mar 03, 2023
Originally published Jan 26, 1995

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