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An itch in the throat or throat area is not only uncomfortable, but can often also be an indication of an incipient disease process. Especially colds, flu, sore throat and bronchitis announce themselves in the majority of all cases by an annoying scratching or itching in the throat.
The symptom of itchy throat is also characteristic of a variety of allergy diseases. The itching itself is therefore usually harmless, but should be clarified by a doctor for safety if symptoms persist.
How is itching in the throat?
Itching (pruritus) is usually described as a constant itching of the upper skin layer, as is typical for skin diseases such as psoriasis or neurodermatitis. However, other skin layers such as the mucous membranes can be affected in addition to the epidermis. Diseases of the internal organs, infections or inflammatory processes in the body are more likely to be responsible for the itching.
If it is specifically about itching in the throat, in most cases an infectious disease or an inflammatory process in the area of the respiratory tract can be identified as the cause of the complaint. The itching is triggered by certain messenger substances that are released at the focus of the disease and tickle the local nerves there, so to speak. This itchy tickling is sent to the brain as a warning signal of an existing tissue irritation and interpreted there as an itch. Typical messenger substances that produce a corresponding itch in the throat are:
- histamine - A tissue hormone that is released in particular in the case of allergies such as hay fever or food intolerance, but also acts as a messenger for inflammation and, in addition to inflammation-based tissue swellings, provokes itching in particular.
- Serotonin - Also a tissue hormone that is significantly associated with the blood circulation, cardiovascular, intestinal vein and central nervous system. Although it is the main task of serotonin to regulate certain system processes such as nerve contractions, the sleep-wake rhythm or blood clotting, the messenger substance is also known as the so-called happiness hormone, which has a massive influence on our feelings. In addition to moods such as inner peace or contentment, serotonin can also cause sensations such as pain, itching or scratching.
- Cytokines - These proteins are responsible for cell growth in the body. They also signal the immune cells in the event of illness to arm themselves against hostile pathogens. Even the fight against tumor cells cannot do without the signaling effect of cytokines. Side effects of such signal communication in the event of illness can include redness, swelling and itching.
Caution: In the worst case, itching caused by cytokines can even lead to an overreaction of the immune system. Extremely high amounts of inflammatory cytokines are released here and the itching then represents the least problem. Because the complication, which is also referred to as the so-called cytokine storm (hypercytokinemia), is considered life-threatening and sometimes leads to extreme loss of function of the affected tissue or organs involved.
Itchy throat not necessarily dangerous
Naturally, itching, tingling or scratching in the throat can also occur when the throat dries out and is not kept supple by too little saliva. For example, if you sleep with your mouth open for too long, you may experience symptoms and wake up with an uncomfortable itch in your throat that only disappears after a few swallowing processes. The same happens when you are in a low-humidity environment, for example due to dry heating air or particularly hot temperatures. And also some foods sometimes cause an itchy irritation in the throat, such as pieces of an apple peel that stick in the throat or throat area.
Respiratory diseases as the main cause
As an indication of an impending flu or cold, an itchy and scratchy throat should be known to everyone. The itching is triggered here by alarming messenger substances, which react with corresponding sensations to toxins, which are secreted by the responsible infectious agent. Often, those affected reflexively try to alleviate the itching sensation by swallowing saliva. Sucking throat sweets or sipping lukewarm drinks can also help to temporarily soothe the itchy feeling in the throat. However, shortly afterwards, patients often quickly find that these measures only bring temporary relief and that the throat remains irritated due to persistent inflammatory processes and the mucous membranes feel increasingly roughened.
It is not uncommon for the state of irritation with which the itching is associated to also spread to the vocal cords in the later course of the disease and one increasingly speaks with a rough voice. The roughening of the mucous membrane continues to increase - not infrequently down to the lower respiratory tract (e.g. in the bronchi) and begins to irritate the larynx and ciliated epithelium of the lungs. As a result, the itchy throat is often followed by a dry, unproductive cough. In the upper throat area, in addition to the mucous membranes, the tonsils and cervical lymph nodes can swell due to irritation, which also causes a strong feeling of oppression as well as difficulty breathing and swallowing. Overall, the following symptoms are typical of itching caused by respiratory diseases:
- Difficulty breathing,
- Oppressive feeling in the throat and neck area,
- Difficulties swallowing,
Even involvement of the ears can be found again and again in infections of the upper respiratory tract. Since the ears have a direct connection to the pharynx via the Eustach’s Röhere, it is all too easy for pathogens to spread from the ears into the throat and throat or, conversely, to ascend from the airways into the middle ear. In both cases, in addition to earache, this results in a strong tingling sensation in the area where the Eustachi tube opens into the throat. In such an event, those affected can literally feel how the pathogens move from the ear to the respiratory tract under annoying itching.
The list of conceivable respiratory diseases that can be the basis of the itchy throat is long. As already shown, diseases of organs adjacent to the respiratory tract may also be considered, provided that there has been an inflammatory subsequent infection in the respiratory tract area. The main causes of illness are:
- Inflammation of the bronchi (Bronchitis),
- Cold or flu infection,
- flu (Influenza),
- Sore throat (Pharyngitis),
- lung infection (Pneumonia),
- Tonsillitis (Tonsilitis),
- Inflammation of the sinuses (Sinusitis),
- sniff (Rhinitis).
Itchy throat for allergies
Itching is also not uncommon in the context of allergic reactions in the neck area. In the case of an allergy, this can be felt both in an actually felt itch, and in the form of tingling, burning or scratching. In this regard, itching is most often associated with a pollen allergy or hay fever (rhinitis allergica). The itchiness arises here when the allergy-causing substances in the form of plant pollen come into contact with the receptors in the mouth and nose area in sufficient concentration. Accompanying symptoms often paint a clear picture, because after contact with the allergen there is also an itchy throat
- Difficulty breathing,
- Red eyes,
- Eye tears,
- itchy to burning eyes,
- and stuffy nose.
Good to know: Pollen allergens are also referred to medically as aerosol. The term describes solid and liquid suspended particles dissolved in gas, whereby in addition to pollen, other aerosols can also act as allergens. This applies, for example, to fungal spores, house dust, environmental pollutants and chemical vapors. They can also cause itching in the throat as part of allergic reactions.
In contrast to allergies to certain aerosols, people with food allergy experience an itchy throat as soon as the allergy-causing food or the allergenic food component comes into contact with the oral and pharynx mucosa. In addition to the mucous membranes of the neck and throat area, food intolerance also mostly affects the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines from the allergic reaction, which in addition to itching in the throat in particular causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea or stomach pain.
The skin can also react with allergy behavior. Although in both cases the same messenger substance, namely histamine, is responsible for the allergic reactions, the combination of conceivable accompanying symptoms in food allergies is usually somewhat different from that in pollen allergy. Characteristic of food allergy are:
- burning esophagus,
- Difficulties swallowing,
- Intestinal colic,
- Skin rash,
- itchy skin,
- Stomach pain / stomach cramps,
- Nausea and vomiting
Warning: As a result of an allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock can occur in the worst case! Behind this lies an excessive immune reaction, which manifests itself above all in increasingly difficult breathing, swelling of all mucous membranes, increased blood pressure and rapid heartbeat and ultimately a circulatory breakdown. Medical treatment is imperative here, which is why an emergency doctor should be called at the first signs of anaphylactic shock.
Itching in the throat due to irritation of the esophagus
The neck not only houses part of the airways, but also the esophagus. If this is affected by a disease, various sensations such as itching or an oppressive feeling in the throat are also conceivable. Very often in this connection, for example, gastric acid flowing back into the esophagus leads to a scratchy, tingling or burning sensation in the throat, which can extend up to the throat area. Because gastric acid attacks the mucosal cells of the esophagus due to its very acidic pH, inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) is inevitable in such a scenario.
Various digestive complications can be responsible for the backflow of gastric juice. In most cases, gastric acid reflux remains a one-time thing and is usually due to a heartburn, such as from eating too quickly or from stress. However, gastric acid reflux can also become a chronic problem. This is mostly due to what is known as reflux esophagitis. A disease in which it is caused by
- permanent overproduction of stomach acid,
- Malfunctions in the area of esophageal peristalsis
- or damage to the esophageal sphincter (Esophageal sphincter)
irritation or inflammation of the esophagus occurs. The latter describes the muscle ring that closes the stomach entrance towards the esophagus and can only insufficiently prevent gastric juice from rising into the esophagus in existing underlying diseases.
Bacterial infections of the stomach, for example, are conceivable reasons for an impaired function of the esophageal sphincter. In this regard, the Helicobacter pylori bacterium in particular likes to cause infection-related stomach inflammation (gastritis). Peptic ulcers or eating disorders such as bulimia can also be used to trigger reflux esophagitis. Disordered eating habits are often underestimated. Due to the frequent vomiting of bulimia patients, the stomach and esophagus are stressed twice. On the one hand, due to the constant vomiting reflex, the esophagus and stomach peristalsis of those affected changes in the long term, which can lead to weaknesses in the esophageal sphincter. On the other hand, vomiting always brings a not insignificant amount of stomach acid into the esophagus, which can lead to persistent scratching and itching in the throat due to chronic esophagitis.
In addition to these disease-related causes of an itchy throat as part of an irritated esophagus, radiation or chemotherapy can also damage the esophageal mucosal cells. If this is the case, one speaks of radiation esophagitis.
There are also external influences that promote such itching. Irritation from chemical substances such as toxic solutions, spraying agents or other toxic substances should be mentioned here in particular. If these are swallowed, they etch the esophageal mucosa, which subsequently leads to inflammation. Regardless of the underlying cause, an itchy throat due to esophageal irritation is usually associated with several of the following symptoms:
- Burning or scratching in the esophagus,
- Inflammation of the esophagus,
- frequent belching and clearing of the throat,
- Stomach pain,
- Bad breath,
- Difficulty swallowing or pain during swallowing,
- dry cough
Itchy throat in thyroid disorders
Symptoms in the throat area, which occur in the context of thyroid diseases, are perceived by most of those affected as foreign body and tightness in the upper neck area, but it can also tingling or scratching, especially in the initial stage. The trigger for the disease is very often either an underactive thyroid or its counterpart, an overactive thyroid
Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune and chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland, can also be behind the symptom. Abnormal sensations in the throat, which are felt as tingling, scratching or even itching, are considered a cardinal symptom in this autoimmune disease.
Thyroid dysfunction is usually accompanied by a variety of other symptoms, which sometimes develop very gradually and initially only slightly restrict those affected. Since early therapy often determines the further course of thyroid disease, it is important to correctly interpret the first signs of the disease. Below you will find an overview of the often very contrary symptoms.
|Symptom complex||Hyperthyroidism||Underactive thyroid / Hashimoto|
|drive||increased drive up to hyperactivity||throttled drive to depression|
|metabolism||increased metabolic rate; Sufferers can eat as much as they want without visibly gaining weight. On the contrary, patients with hyperthyroidism usually appear to be relatively lean||throttled metabolic rate; Even the “sight” of unhealthy food feels like a patient's body weight is increasing|
|Need for sleep||low, a few hours are enough||increased, even after many hours of sleep you feel tired|
|bowel movement||increased, tendency to diarrhea||throttled, prone to constipation|
Unless a cold or other mild respiratory illness can be identified as the cause of an itchy throat, those affected should rather consult a doctor for clarification. Because behind the symptom there can also be serious underlying diseases that are not to be trifled with. The diagnosis then usually follows the exclusion procedure. At the beginning, of course, there is a detailed patient history, for example to find out about possible family clusters of autoimmune diseases and allergies. Existing accompanying symptoms should also be addressed by those affected, as they provide relatively good information on relevant disease areas.
After the patient survey, a physical examination is then carried out. In particular, breathing and appearance of the throat and throat area are checked. Concomitant complaints such as difficulty breathing, inflammation of the mucous membranes, swelling and redness can be best determined in this way. Accordingly, diagnostic measures such as tapping or listening to the chest area for unusual noises or looking into the throat and pharynx using a slit lamp are common. A smear to identify infectious agents is also possible. A blood analysis then provides additional information on the patient's state of health, with the aid of which inflammation values as well as hormonal and immunological markers can be assessed.
Depending on the cause of the itching in the throat, there are different treatment measures. However, it is often not possible without drug treatment. In addition, home remedies and naturopathy offer good approaches to accompanying therapy, especially for inflammations in the respiratory and esophageal areas.
The drug therapy of itching symptoms in the neck and throat area depends very much on the underlying cause. Allergies are treated with histamine-inhibiting drugs (antihistamines) as standard. At the same time, of course, the allergen causing it must be avoided so that renewed allergic reactions can be avoided as much as possible.
Inflammation of the upper respiratory tract and esophagus can be treated with antibiotic therapy, provided that bacteria or fungi are the cause of the inflammation. If a fungal infection is the cause of the symptoms, antifungal drugs that are administered orally or through the vein can also help.
An overproduction of gastric acid in the course of reflux oesophagitis is treated in therapy with gastric acid-inhibiting drugs (anticides). Depending on the cause of the acid reflux, such treatment may be necessary as a short-term cure of two to four weeks or even for a lifetime.
Hypothyroidism can be treated with replacement therapies for under-produced thyroid hormones (mostly thyroxine). Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, requires the administration of preparations that inhibit the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Corresponding drugs are called thyrostatics, with agents such as carbimazole, sodium percholate, propylthiouracil and thiamazole being common. In any case, patients with thyroid dysfunction must be checked at regular intervals by laboratory chemistry and their dose adjusted if necessary.
In addition to targeted disease medication, the administration of anti-inflammatory, decongestant and / or analgesic drugs is also conceivable in most cases. However, it is advisable to rely on home remedies and medicinal herbs for symptom treatment before reaching for the pharmaceutical club. Because every medicine means additional stress for the body in the breakdown of foreign substances, which is why tablets and Co. should only be considered if private measures are unsuccessful.
Itchy throat in particular due to a too dry or cooled throat area, viral infectious diseases of the upper respiratory tract or stress-related reflux esophagitis sometimes respond well to home remedies. The possible private measures primarily include changes in diet and behavior in everyday life. In any case, irritating substances such as nicotine, alcohol and exhaust gases should be avoided, as these only further stress the already irritated neck. All other measures then depend more or less on the underlying disease.
Home remedies for a dry, chilled throat
It is not uncommon for an itch, scratching or tingling in the throat to have no direct disease value, but rather results from drying out or cooling down. However, it should be borne in mind that a throat area attacked in this way always provides entry points for pathogens and those affected tend to get a cold or flu so quickly. For this reason, people who are susceptible to the above effects should pay special attention to their neck and throat area and take the following precautions:
- Don't wear a deep neckline in cool weather and protect your neck and chest area with a scarf or scarf.
- Provide sufficient suppleness in the throat and throat. Best for this are cough drops with beneficial herbal additives and warm teas.
- Always drink a lot so that your daily fluid needs are covered and your body can always produce enough saliva to moisten the throat and pharynx.
- Sufficient air humidity in closed rooms must be ensured, especially in winter. Simply place a bowl with water or put a damp cloth on the heater. If you want, you can also get a special humidifier.
Home remedies for respiratory infections
- The top priority for respiratory infections is to support your body's self-healing powers. In addition to the intake of sufficient liquid, a vitamin-rich diet with lots of fruits and vegetables is also required to strengthen the immune system.
- In addition to an immune-boosting diet, enough rest is also important. The body is already stressed enough to fight infectious agents and must therefore be given as much time to regenerate as possible.
- Proper cooling or warming of the neck area can also relieve itching in the throat. Whether cooling measures such as cold compresses or heat treatments with grain pillows and hot water bottles are more pleasant must be tried out individually.
Home remedies for stress-related reflux esophagitis
In many cases, inflammation of the esophagus and stomach entrance due to overproduction of gastric acid results from the combination of a lot of stress, an unbalanced diet and the consumption of addictive substances. Therefore, a change in lifestyle in these areas can provide not only short-term relief, but also long-term healing of symptoms.
- Avoid or at least reduce your consumption of addictive substances such as nicotine, caffeine, alcohol. A reduction of foods that contain many acidic or irritating ingredients should also be done to protect the esophagus. In this regard, this primarily means soft drinks, sweets, ready meals and hot spices.
- You shouldn't eat your last meal right before bed. This is because the stomach has a hard time digesting, especially at night, which could lead to heartburn if there is reflux esophagitis. In addition, the meals should not be too generous to make the digestive work easier for the stomach.
- Sleep with your torso slightly elevated so that gastric acid cannot flow back into the esophagus too easily.
- In the event of an acute attack of acid reflux, you can drink a large sip of milk or slowly chew a piece of mixed bread or a tablespoon of oatmeal. The foods absorb the stomach acid and thus prevent reflux.
Experience has shown that sore throats react very well to treatment with naturopathic remedies. Good experiences have been made in this area with the use of sage, thyme and chamomile. The herbs can be used as tea, lozenges, wraps, garlic solutions, steam baths and inhalations.
Some people swear by homeopathic (combination) preparations for the medical treatment of an itchy throat. Lycopodium, Belladonna and Phytolacca could be mentioned in this context. When used as globules several times a day for neck and ear complaints, these should provide relief very quickly. However, the experiences on this are very different. If in doubt, simply try it out after consulting an experienced therapist.
Surgical treatment options are used in young children who often suffer from ear infections. Here, small tubes are inserted into the Eustach’s tube to allow the inflammatory secretions to pass physiologically through the tympanic tube.
If the esophagus is severely damaged as a result of burns, there is sometimes only the way of surgical rehabilitation, which is often associated with partial loss of the esophagus and stomach. Operative therapy is also sometimes considered for thyroid dysfunction.
Diseases as causes of itching in the throat: Cold, bronchitis, pharynx, pneumonia, tonsillitis, flu, otitis media, runny nose, hay fever, sinusitis, laryngitis, food allergy, reflux oesophagitis, esophagitis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism. (ma)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- A. Lan Schumacher, Georg J. Ledderose, Peter Hahn (ed.), Karl-Joseph Paquet (ed.): Facts ENT, KVM - Der Medizinverlag, 1st edition, 2010
- Hannelore Wächtler, Jean-Francois Chenot: Sore Throat, DEGAM Guideline No. 14, German Society for General Medicine and Family Medicine, (accessed August 15, 2019), AWMF
- Jürgen Strutz (ed.), Wolf Mann (ed.), Practice of ENT medicine, head and neck surgery, Thieme Verlag, 3rd edition, 2017
- Kristle Lee Lynch: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, MSD Manual, (accessed August 15, 2019), MSD
- Jerome M. Hershman: Hashimoto's thyroiditis, MSD Manual, (accessed August 15, 2019), MSD