TrustCare | What Does an Itchy Throat Mean?

What Does an Itchy Throat Mean?

in Allergies/Sinus COVID-19 Sore Throat

Developing an itchy throat in the middle of winter, a time of year that has long been associated with “cold and flu season,” is a fairly normal experience we all have had. This year, however, the concern over respiratory illnesses is even more pronounced because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is raging all over the United States. Like many other cold and flu-like symptoms, an itchy throat can be worrisome in this context, but the good news is that it isn’t one of the typical symptoms of COVID. In fact, this kind of itchiness probably isn’t even due to disease at all.

What Are the Common Symptoms of COVID-19?

Given how concerning and widespread the coronavirus is right now, it’s helpful to look at the latest information on the typical symptoms. Only a test administered by a highly trained healthcare provider can definitely determine whether you have COVID-19, but reviewing common COVID symptoms is a valuable first step that can potentially give you clarity. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID may experience the following:

  • fever
  • chills
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • body aches or muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

It’s important to note that not every person will have all of these symptoms; some people may have many while others may only have one or two. Additionally, the severity of these symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms can present within 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, but a person can actually be infectious and pass on the virus even if they have to experience any symptoms. For this reason, it is crucial that people continue to wear masks and socially distance, per CDC guidelines.

Possible Explanations for an Itchy Throat

If you don’t have any other COVID symptoms or have been isolating for the recommended two weeks, there are a variety of other reasons for an itchy throat that might be applicable:

  • Environmental Allergies: Perhaps the most likely cause of an itchy throat is an allergic reaction to an airborne substance. Also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, these kinds of allergies are characterized by inhaling small allergen particles that irritate or inflame the lungs or airways as the result of an immune system response. Examples of allergens include pollen, pet dander, dust mites, cigarette smoke, and spores from mold or fungi.

  • Food Allergies: Though it may seem counterintuitive, food allergies are another somewhat common cause of an itchy throat. The main reason for this is a condition called oral allergy syndrome (OAS), a group of symptoms that can occur in certain people after consuming some types of raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts. OAS isn’t technically considered a food allergy but rather a result of cross-reacting elements of these foods that contain trace amounts of pollen. This condition typically develops in people who already have allergic rhinitis.

  • Drug Allergies: Some medications, especially antibiotics like penicillin, can cause an allergic reaction in certain people. In addition to an itchy throat, symptoms can include hives and swelling. In extreme cases an anaphylactic reaction can potentially cause serious side effects or even death.

  • Infections: Viral infections that affect the respiratory system, such as the common cold or the flu, are another potential cause of an itchy throat that can occur as part of the first stage of the illness. In fact, a scratchy throat can sometimes be the first sign that you have a cold or the flu; that scratchiness usually morphs into soreness. Bacterial infections like strep throat or tonsillitis are also a potential cause of itchiness.

  • Dehydration: Sometimes simply not drinking enough water can lead to dehydration or just a dry mouth. In either case, the lack of moisture in the throat can make it feel parched and scratchy. Even after finally drinking water, your throat may feel a little raw for a while after, depending on how dehydrated you were.

  • Acid Reflux: Interchangeably referred to as heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), acid reflux refers to the state of having stomach acid rise up from the stomach into the bottom end of the esophagus. Acid reflux typically has additional related symptoms (such as chest pain or nausea), but some people experience a version called silent reflux that may only present as an itchy throat.

In many cases, determining the cause of your itchy throat will be heavily influenced by any other accompanying symptoms. An itchy throat by itself may just be a temporary allergic reaction, but, when paired with hives or swelling, it may indicate what kind of allergen is the culprit. If paired with (or eventually followed by) a runny nose or sneezing, then it may be more likely an infection.

How Can I Treat or Prevent an Itchy Throat?

Treating an itchy throat is primarily dependent on the cause, of course, but there are some remedies that can bring relief regardless of the underlying condition. If you have a cold or the flu, there is no cure, but you can mitigate the discomfort of a scratchy throat with a time-honored remedy like honey. Either eaten directly by the spoonful or mixed into hot tea, the honey acts as a gentle coating in your throat that can make it feel better almost immediately. The following are some other treatment and prevention ideas that are known to be soothing and helpful at keeping your throat itch-free:

  • taking antihistamines
  • gargling salt water
  • using cough drops or throat lozenges
  • sipping hot tea (with honey or lemon)
  • using over-the-counter nasal sprays
  • avoiding cigarette smoke (primary or second-hand)
  • avoiding alcohol and caffeine
  • drinking water or other fluids regularly

Some causes of throat itchiness are somewhat unavoidable, like the seasonal allergies that can be a nuisance for certain people. In terms of diseases or infections that can lead to a variety of symptoms, the best prevention method is the same advice that is relevant to the cold, flu, and COVID-19: wash your hands regularly, remain socially distanced from people outside your household, and wear a mask when you have to be out in public.

When to See a Doctor

If you have an itchy throat and you think you might have COVID-19, TrustCare provides testing at any of our urgent care clinics (walk-in only) or by appointment at one of our dedicated COVID-19 testing facilities. At a time when the virus continues to spread, it’s more important than ever to be diligent about staying safe for yourself and other people in your life. Even if you don’t think you have COVID-19, we are here to provide excellent care for you and your family at any of our numerous locations, all with convenient hours.

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