A scratchy throat is a common way to describe an inflamed, itchy or irritated throat. Most of us experience throat symptoms like these many times in life. Sometimes it progresses into a full blown sore throat while at other times a scratchy throat remains as just a mild irritation and nothing else. It can last for a few days or persist for longer yet it does not develop further into an intense sore throat as we know it. Eventually it passes on its own. Whatever the case, a scratchy throat can be annoying and affect your ability to talk, eat and sleep peacefully.
It is important to pay attention to a scratchy throat that develops suddenly. It can be the early symptom of a throat problem or upper respiratory tract conditions. Early medical attention can help to prevent it progressing into intense pharyngitis and to minimize the severity of the causative condition like the common cold. But many of us opt not to seek medical assistance for a scratchy throat as it seems like such a minor ailment. Often it can be managed at home with a few simple remedies but if it is worsening and other symptoms are arising then you need to see a doctor.
Causes of a Scratchy Throat
Here are some of the possible causes of a scratchy throat:
- Common cold or flu (influenza)
- Bacterial or viral tonsillitis/pharyngitis (tonsillopharyngitis) or laryngitis
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux)
- Excessive talking or shouting
- Mouth breathing for long periods
- Postnasal drip
- Smoke inhalation including cigarette smoking
The treatment of a scratchy throat largely depends on the causes. It may involve using medication like antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and antihistamines.
Rest your voice and throat
Rest is one of ways to ease the stress on your throat. Sleeping is one of the better choices. Not only will you be getting sufficient rest to allow your body to recover but sleeping also ensures that you do not speak or eat for that period of time. Both talking and eating can irritate your throat further. Even when awake, try to keep talking to the minimum and only eat soft foods in small bites. With most common acute infections, just 1 or 2 days of bed rest with minimal talking can be very helpful in preventing the scratchy throat from worsening.
Drink plenty of fluids
Water can be useful in soothing a scratchy throat although it only offers short term relief. Not only does it moisten the throat but if you drink ice water, the cold can actually reduce the inflammation to some extent. However, you may find that ice water may only aggravate the scratchiness a short while after the irritation subsides. It may not always be convenient to drink large amounts of water since it may mean more frequent bathroom trips. Small sips of water regularly can do the trick.
Moisten the air
Dryness is the main issue in a scratchy throat, be it actual dryness or just perceived as such. Water can be helpful as well as other beverages. However, if you are in a dry environment, your throat will quickly dry up. A humidifier may be able to counteract the dryness of the air. It produces water vapor to increase the air moisture which can minimize the drying of the throat and respiratory passages. It is only effective in closed rooms and may be a better option for the bedroom when you are sleeping.
Gargle with saltwater
A warm saltwater gargle can help greatly with a scratchy throat that has just started up. It is particularly useful for throat infections. Saltwater gargles have slight antibacterial action but more importantly it can flush out bacteria that may be thriving in the throat. These gargles can also loosen mucus in the throat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to a glass of lukewarm water and stir it thoroughly. Try to gargle with saltwater at least 3 times a day. But if the scratchiness is worsening then the saltwater gargle will not do the trick. Rather see a doctor as soon as possible.
Avoid inhaled irritants
If you are cigarette smoker then now is the time to quit. A scratchy throat can be related to your cigarette smoking and may be the start of a chronic problem. Alternately your cigarette smoke will aggravate the scratching further. Even if you live with a smoker, you can still have similar problems despite not smoking yourself. However, cigarette smoke is not the only inhaled irritant. Other types of smoke, airborne dust, air pollution and allergens can all irritate the throat. Try to avoid these irritants and allergens as far as possible.
Sip on warm beverages
A warm drink like cocoa or tea can be quite soothing as well. It should not be too hot or it can intensify the inflammation and injure the already irritated throat. Warm chicken soup or broth may also help but it is not necessarily the ingredients of the soup that makes the difference. Rather the warm fluid consistency of soup may be soothing. Remember that it is important to ensure good nutrition when you are feeling unwell and a warm soup can do the trick when your throat is scratchy and irritated by regular solid foods.
Suck on lozenges
Lozenges can be medicated or non-medicated. Both are helpful for a scratchy throat with medicated lozenges being better for infections or pain. Non-medicated lozenges do not have any known therapeutic benefit although most people find it helpful. Its effect is largely to increase saliva production which then soothes the throat. But medicated lozenges can contain contain antibiotics and even mild anesthetics that have pharmacological benefits. Lozenges are a short term solution until you can get proper medical care. It is not suitable for toddlers.