It is extremely common to have an itchy throat or feel the presence of a lump or “dust” in the back of the throat. These symptoms are often minor and temporary, but they can be extremely irritating. Plus, they often occur just before or during a more serious health issue.
Occurring most often during the spring and summer months, allergies are a common cause of itchy throat. Many people have allergies to dust, pollen, mold, pet dander, and mites. While having an allergic reaction, most people experience throat irritation, along with runny and congested nose and red eyes. Some people develop a dry cough, as well.
The pharynx is a section of the throat just above the larynx. Sometimes, bacteria enter the body through aerosolized particles, leading to infection of the pharynx. This causes pharyngitis or inflammation of the pharynx. While these infections are often short-lived and not serious, they can cause throat irritation and other minor symptoms.
At the base of the tongue is the epiglottis, a small flap that prevents food from entering the windpipe. Epiglottitis describes inflammation resulting from an infection of the epiglottis. Mild symptoms can include an itchy throat and drooling. Serious infections may suddenly present with a severe sore throat, high fever, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. Epiglottitis can be life-threatening and often requires immediate hospitalization.
Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx or voice box. It can result from an infection, irritation, or just overuse. Both the severity and duration of laryngitis can vary, though most cases of the condition only last a few days. Laryngitis is particularly common among singers and public speakers. Throat irritation is the most common symptom, along with hoarseness and a dry cough.
Strep throat is an extremely common throat infection that causes issues like pain, difficulty swallowing, fever, and skin rash. As the infection worsens, and even after treatment, throat irritation may persist for several weeks. Though strep throat primarily occurs in children, it can affect people of any age.
During colds and other respiratory illnesses, excess fluid flows from the nasal tissues into the throat. This condition is post-nasal drip or rhinorrhea. The excess fluid irritates the area, causing an itchy throat and nagging cough. In some instances, even spicy foods are enough to trigger a post-nasal drip.
In some cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease — GERD or acid reflux — is responsible for an itchy throat. In a healthy person, the small intestine neutralizes stomach acid. However, sometimes stomach acid flows into the esophagus and throat, irritating and damaging these areas. Reflux episodes often occur at night due to specific sleeping positions.
Throat irritation is not necessarily the result of an underlying condition; the environment itself often causes or contributes to the issue. Winter, and particularly dry environments, are among the worst. Dry, cold air leads to a lack of moisture in the throat that often manifests as throat irritation. Environmental pollution may also irritate the throat, as can indoor pollution like tobacco smoke.
For most instances of throat irritation, treating the underlying cause solves the issue. This typically involves medications to fight infections. Some people find that mild pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs help ease the symptom. Cough drops can help by increasing salivation and additives like menthol cool the throat, though most of these products lack medicinal ingredients.
Other than maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle to promote good immune system function, there is very little that a person can do to prevent an itchy throat. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and keep the throat moist, especially during winter or while in dry areas. Get plenty of sleep and avoid overusing the larynx with excessive speaking or yelling.