Itchy throat refers to an irritating sensation in the throat that often occurs as one of the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection and pharyngitis (sore throat). Itchy throat usually resolves on in few days with general supportive care.
As the name suggests, itchy throat is an itching or irritating sensation in the throat. Itchy throat is a symptom and usually it is accompanied by few other symptoms like fever, pain in the throat, difficulty in swallowing, pain on swallowing, coughing, etc. Itchy throat usually occurs in sore throat, upper respiratory tract infections and allergies. Other causes are relatively rare.
Causes of Itchy Throat
Itchy throat is a symptom that can be caused by variety of diseases. Some of the common causes of itchy throat are:
- Infections - Infections are one of the most common causes of itchy throat. Itchy throat is one of the main presenting symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. It may also occur along with sore throat in pharyngitis. Itchy throat can be caused by bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Bacterial infections (strep throat, etc.) and viral infections (common cold, flu, etc.) can occur in healthy individuals, however, fungal infection usually occurs in condition of immunosuppression like AIDS, anti-cancer chemotherapy, prolonged steroid use, diabetes mellitus, organ transplant recipients, etc.
- Allergies - Allergies to ingested foods or drinks or inhaled particles are also a very important cause of itchy throat. Itchy throat due to allergies is usually easy to differentiate from that due to other causes. It persists longer and occurs more frequently and accompanied by other symptoms of allergy like shortness of breath, runny nose, watering of eye, etc. A seasonal pattern may be present in many allergies.
- Irritants - Chemical irritants (industrial chemicals, etc.) and polluted air may cause local irritation and result in itchy throat. Cigarette smoke (in both active and passive smoking) can cause irritation to the throat and result in itchy throat.
- Singing Practice - Excessive strain on larynx may occur because of shouting or prolonged singing practice. This may result in itchy throat.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease - Heartburns may sometimes result in itchy throat because of reflux of acid up to the throat.
- Other Conditions - There are numerous other conditions that can result in itchy throat. However, these are quite rare causes of itchy throat. Few examples are: Pneumonia, Bronchitis, Sjögren's syndrome, Malignant growth in the throat, Trauma to the throat, Vomiting, etc.
Treatment of Itchy Throat
Treatment of itchy throat will depend upon the cause of itchy throat. Generally, itchy throat due to infections (common cold, flu, strep throat, etc.) resolves spontaneously within few days.
Few home remedies for itchy throat that provide symptomatic relief are:
- Gargles with lukewarm saline water
- Drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Breathing water vapors (from a steam vaporizer or in a steam bath)
- Throat Lozenges may provide soothing effect and alleviate the symptoms of itchy throat.
Anti-histamines like cetirizine are very effective in relieving the itchy throat symptom, especially in allergic conditions. Viral infections (common cold, flu) require no other medications for itchy throat and antibiotics are needed only in bacterial infections. NSAIDs (like ibuprofen and acetaminophen) are concomitantly prescribed if there is also accompanying fever and/or pain. Antitussives are needed if there is concomitant cough also.