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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: to get rid of mucus, an inhaled substance, or another irritant that is causing the tickle. Coughing may not always remove whatever is causing a tickle in the throat, though.

The key to getting rid of a tickle in the throat is understanding its cause and finding an appropriate treatment strategy.

This article explores the various causes of a tickle in the throat and treatments.

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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.

Typically, a tickle in the throat is irritating and may be due to:

Also, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux can lead to a chronic cough and tickle in the throat.

About 75% of people with acid reflux may also have a cough with no other symptoms, such as heartburn.

After exercise

If people frequently have a tickly or sore throat after exercise, they may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), or exercise-induced asthma.

EIB can happen when the airways lose heat, water, or both, during exercise when people breathe in air that is drier than the air inside the body.

Other symptoms of EIB can include:

People may notice symptoms a few minutes after beginning exercising, and symptoms may continue for 10-15 minutes after stopping exercising.

Irritants in the air can also trigger EIB during certain activities, such as:

  • pollution or cold, dry air if exercising outdoors
  • chlorine in swimming pools
  • increased air temperature during hot yoga
  • fragrances, cleaning products, or paint in gym settings

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 the tickle is due to post-nasal drip, the throat can feel irritated and sore. Individuals may also feel as if they have a lump in their throats, which may be due to swelling of the tonsils.

Treatment for a tickle in the throat will aim to resolve one of the underlying causes.

Post-nasal drip

The best way to treat a tickle in the throat due to post-nasal drip is by finding out what is causing 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 may help.

Sore throat

A sore throat can be due to a bacterial or viral infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most cases of a sore throat are viral. People can treat viral sore throats with over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and home remedies.

The Streptococcus bacteria can cause strep throat, a type of sore throat, and requires treatment with antibiotics.

Allergies

To get rid of a tickle in the throat due to an allergy, a person must identify what is causing the allergy and then try to avoid it. Working alongside an allergist can help to identify an allergen.

When it is not possible to avoid allergens, such as pollen in the air, medications that include antihistamines may help reduce the irritation.

Sinus infection

A sinus infection, otherwise known as sinusitis, is another common cause of a tickle in the throat.

If a cold lasts for more than 10-14 days or starts to get better but then gets worse again after 7-10 days, it could be sinusitis.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, and OTC pain relievers and nasal treatments help with viral infections.

Dehydration

Increasing saliva production may help reduce the symptoms of dehydration and eliminate the resulting tickle in the throat.

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.

Dust

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 or other irritants where possible.

GERD

People can treat GERD 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

Asthma is a chronic lung condition where the airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it difficult to breathe.

A tickle in the throat and a chronic cough are the main asthma symptoms for some people.

People with asthma need to work closely with their doctor to develop and follow a treatment plan to control their symptoms.

ACE inhibitors

Using an ACE inhibitor, a type of medication that doctors prescribe to treat hypertension, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular conditions, may cause a dry cough or tickle in the throat in up to 10% of users.

If someone experiences a dry cough or tickle in the throat due to using an ACE inhibitor, they should find that these symptoms resolve after stopping using the medication.

A tickle in the throat can be a common symptom and usually not due to serious health conditions, so many people may 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
  • a 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

People may be able to treat a tickle in the throat with home remedies. People can see their doctor about a tickle in the throat if they have:

People taking an ACE inhibitor who develop a tickly throat should discuss with a doctor whether this medication is the culprit.

Risk factors include exposure to known allergens and foods.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology identifies the following as common allergens:

Also, many people are allergic to the following foods:

Individuals with 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.

Read the article in Spanish.

The home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.

A tickle in the throat is very common and usually accompanies a dry cough, the purpose of which is to get rid of mucus.

Many different conditions and factors can cause a tickle in the throat and a dry cough. Anyone concerned about a tickle in the throat or a cough that does not go away on its own in time should speak to a doctor.