Everyone has experienced it at some point — a sensation in the throat, somewhere between a tickle and an itch, frequently accompanied by a dry cough.
The cough has a purpose, which is to get rid of mucus, an inhaled substance, or another irritant that is causing the tickle. But the problem is, coughing does not always remove whatever is causing a tickle in the throat.
The key to getting rid of a tickle in the throat is understanding its cause and devising an appropriate treatment strategy.
Fast facts on a tickle in the throat:
- A tickle in the throat is less uncomfortable than other forms of throat pain.
- Although rare, a tickle in the throat and a chronic cough can be a sign of throat cancer.
- Coughs are the most common symptom reported to primary care doctors, according to one survey.
- Tickle in the throat is frequently an allergic response.
A tickle in the throat may be due to inflammation of the voice box, sinusitis, or a sore throat.
A cough is a natural reaction to a foreign substance or irritation in the throat.
However, the cough from a tickly throat can become chronic and linger. A doctor will then classify this condition as a tickle in the throat.
In most cases, this condition is irritating and may be due to:
- a post-nasal drip
- sore throat
- inflammation of the voice box
- environmental irritants
How does it feel?
A tickle in the throat can feel like a snag and an itchy or rough patch in the back of the mouth. People may also be hoarse and have difficulty speaking.
If post-nasal drip is the cause of the tickle, the throat can feel irritated and sore. Individuals may also feel as if they have a lump in their throats, which is often due to swelling of the tonsils.
Treatment for a tickle in the throat will aim to resolve one of the underlying causes.
The best way to treat a tickle in the throat due to post-nasal drip is by addressing the root cause of this increase in mucus production. Common causes are allergies, GERD, and bacterial or viral infections.
In some cases, it is not possible to identify the cause of post-nasal drip, and general home remedies are the usual recommendation.
A sore throat can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
Between 15–30 percent of cases in children and 5–20 percent of adult cases are strep throats. These are caused by the Streptococcus bacteria and require treatment with antibiotics.
However, the majority of cases of a sore throat are viral and can be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and home remedies.
To get rid of a tickle in the throat that is due to an allergy, a person must identify what is causing the allergy and then avoid it. Identifying an allergic substance can be done with the assistance of an allergist.
When it is not possible to avoid allergens, such as pollen in the air, medications that include antihistamines can help reduce the irritation.
A sinus infection, otherwise known as sinusitis, is another common cause of a tickle in the throat.
If a cold lasts for more than 10 days, or starts to get better but then gets worse again, it may mean that the sinuses have been infected.
Infections caused by bacteria may be treated with antibiotics while viral infections are addressed with over-the-counter pain relievers and nasal treatments.
Increasing production of saliva can help reduce the symptoms of dehydration and eliminate the tickle in the throat that it causes.
Popsicles and ice chips can also help calm a ticklish throat, as can the use of a humidifier to add moisture to the air a person is breathing.
Environmental irritants, such as dust, air pollution, and cigarette smoke, can all cause a tickle in the throat. One of the best ways to address this is by quitting smoking and limiting exposure to smoke.
GERD can be treated with a mixture of medication and lifestyle changes, such as sleeping with the head elevated and modifying eating and drinking habits. These steps can help people manage a tickle in the throat caused by acid reflux.
Asthma is a chronic lung condition where the airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it difficult to breathe.
For some people, a tickle in the throat and a chronic cough are their main asthma symptoms.
People with asthma need to work closely with their doctor to develop and follow a treatment plan that can control their symptoms.
Home remedies, including hot lemon and honey tea, may be recommended to relieve a tickle in the throat.
Because a tickle in the throat is a common symptom and usually not linked to serious health conditions, many sufferers turn to home remedies for relief.
There is a wide variety of these to choose from, including:
- hot tea with lemon or honey
- hot soup
- tonic made from hot water, lemon juice, honey, and cayenne pepper
- ginger tea
- throat lozenges or hard candies
- drinking more water
- avoiding caffeine
- using a humidifier to keep the air from becoming too dry
- getting plenty of rest
- soothing airways with hot steam, showers, or baths
- sage to ease throat discomfort
When to see a doctor
Sometimes people go to the doctor because they think they have a chronic cough or tickle in their throat, but this is not usually the case.
If the tickle in the throat lingers for more than 3 weeks and is accompanied by swollen glands, a fever, difficulty swallowing, wheezing, weight loss, or other more serious symptoms, a person should see a doctor.
Allergens, including animal dander, may be considered risk factors.
Exposure to known allergens and foods that many people are allergic to can be considered risk factors.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology identifies the following as common allergens:
- animal dander
- insect stings
- dust mites
- pollen, usually from grasses and weeds
Also, many people are allergic to the following foods:
- dairy products
Individuals suffering from a tickle in the throat may choose to work with an allergist to determine whether or not allergies are causing their throat irritation. Similarly, they may want to learn to avoid triggers of an allergic response.
The home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.