We all experience throat irritation at times, which is not actual pain. The throat may feel itchy, scratchy, rough or raw. There are various ways in which people describe this type of discomfort. The common term used is throat irritation but unlike pain, it does not specify the exact type of sensation. So what causes an irritated throat and what does this sensation mean?
What is an irritated throat?
Any unusual sensation in the throat that is uncomfortable is referred to as throat irritation. It is not a specific symptom like throat pain but does indicate that there is some alteration or abnormality in the tissue of the throat. Usually this irritation is associated with inflammation, either just when it is starting or as it is resolving. Irritation may therefore precede pain or follow it, as is the case before and after a throat infection.
The term sore throat may also be used to describe an irritated throat. However, a sore throat is a broad term that may also refer to throat pain. The medical term for throat inflammation is pharyngitis. Since the tonsils are also located here, it may be inflamed (tonsillitis). Collectively it is referred to as tonsillopharyngitis. Extremes of temperature, toxins, pollutants, infections, acid reflux and snoring are some of the causes of throat irritation.
Throat irritation is a symptom, just like throat pain. Sometimes it may occur on its own. At other times it may occur in conjunction with other symptoms such as:
- Hoarse voice or a whisper
- Increased thirst
- Lump in the throat feeling
- Burning or itchy throat
- Difficult swallowing (dysphagia)
There may be additional symptoms present depending on the underlying cause of an irritated throat. This may include a fever, a runny nose, heartburn, strange taste in the mouth and even difficulty breathing. The presence of more serious signs and symptoms such as blood from the mouth should always be immediately assessed by a medical professional.
Causes of Irritated Throat
The throat is a conduit to both the lower airways and lung as well to the gut. Air, food, beverages, mouth and nose secretions pass through the throat on a constant basis. Along with it is a host of bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, pollutants and toxins that are inadvertently consumed or inhaled. Any of these external factors can be the cause of throat irritation, as well as certain internal factors.
Hot and Cold
Very hot food and beverages can injure the throat tissue. This is a common mechanical injury. Cold can also cause tissue injury although this is less common than heat-related injuries. The irritation persists for anywhere from a few hours to days until the tissue heals. In severe cases there may be pain.
A range of chemicals can cause throat tissue injury. Very acidic and alkaline substances, cigarette smoke and other pollutants or toxins may injury the throat tissue when it makes contact with it. This can occur from ingestion or inhalation and the throat irritation may vary by the type of chemical, strength and duration of contact.
Irritation of the throat can cause a cough. However, a cough can also cause irritation of the throat. In the case of a lower airway or lung infection, there may be no problem with the throat but the persistent coughing can eventually irritate the throat.
Throat infections are very common. It is mainly due to viruses or bacteria. These infections may occur as part of an upper respiratory tract infection or it may be only the throat that is affected. Tonsillitis and pharyngitis describe inflammation of the tonsils and throat from any cause but it is more often used to describe an infection.
Post Nasal Drip
Post nasal drip is a condition where nasal mucus drops down the back of the throat and irritates it. The cause of the excess nasal mucus may be due to an infection, allergy or other condition. Another common symptom in post nasal drip is the constant need to clear the throat and there may also be a shallow cough.
Acid reflux is a very common condition where the stomach acid rises up to the esophagus. The acid may reach the throat where it causes chemical irritation and tissue damage. The condition tends to worsen at night and while lying flat. Therefore a person may complain of a morning sore throat.
Snoring is another common cause of throat irritation. It occurs when the throat tissue vibrates when breathing while asleep. This is due to the throat tissue being abnormally lax. The vibration irritates the throat and a person may wake up with a sore throat in the morning.
Breathing through the mouth for any reason can cause throat irritation. The nose slows down, moistens, filters and warms inflowing air and the same does not occur with breathing through the mouth. As a result the movement of air itself can irritate the throat tissue.
Although the conditions above are among the more common causes of an irritated throat, there are a host of other causes that may also be responsible. This includes minor factors like excessive talking or a dry throat to serious conditions like tumors which may be cancerous.
Remedies for Throat Irritation
The underlying cause of throat irritation needs to be diagnosed and treated. However, simple measures can help to relieve the irritation for short periods of time. This should not exclude the need for treatment by a medical professional.
- Reduce talking until the irritation subsides and avoid shouting.
- Treat nasal congestion that may lead to mouth breathing.
- A salt water mouth rinse can be used for gargling for only short periods of time.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) lozenges may help with relieve a sore throat for short period.
- Stay away from tobacco. Apart from smoking, even tobacco chewing can be a problem.
- Avoid very hot or cold food and drinks. Even spicy foods that may be neither hot or cold can be an irritant.
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages to soothe the throat. It can irritate the throat tissue and worsen conditions like acid reflux which may be the cause of the irritation.