Infections and allergies are the main causes of an itchy throat and ears.
Allergens, viruses, and bacteria can all irritate the skin and nerves, which causes an itching sensation.
This article will look at the main causes of an itchy throat and ears, as well as some tips for relief, prevention, and treatment.
The most common causes of an itchy throat and ears are allergies, viruses, and infections. However, some environmental factors can also cause itching.
The following sections will look at some specific causes in more detail.
The medical name for hay fever is allergic rhinitis.
Allergic rhinitis occurs when a person’s immune system becomes very sensitive to a trigger, such as pollen. The body reacts by trying to fight the allergen. This causes swelling, irritation, and itching.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), hay fever presents in one of two forms depending on the type of allergen and when the symptoms develop: seasonal hay fever and perennial hay fever.
Seasonal hay fever occurs due to pollen from grasses or trees and mold spores carried by air. It affects people in spring, summer, and early fall.
Perennial hay fever occurs due to allergens such as dust mites, dander (pet hair), and mold. It can affect people at any time of the year.
Other hay fever symptoms
As well as having an itchy throat and ears, a person may have the following symptoms:
Viruses and infections
Viruses and infections may cause an itchy throat and ears, but a person could also experience other symptoms depending on the virus or infection:
- Colds: Cold viruses irritate the nose, throat, and ears. A person is more likely to experience regular colds if they have asthma, have a weakened immune system, or are regularly stressed or tired.
- Sinusitis: A sinus infection has similar symptoms to a cold, including a blocked or runny nose. The sinuses are cavities filled with air in the face, and these become swollen and painful with sinusitis.
- Ear infections: These infections are more likely to cause pain than itching and are common in younger children.
Sometimes, a person experiences an itchy throat due to environmental factors that are not allergens. These can include:
- cigarette smoke
- strong-smelling laundry detergent
- strong-smelling cleaning products
There are several over-the-counter (OTC) medications and home remedies a person can try to relieve itching in their ears and throat. These include:
- Nasal sprays, decongestants, or humidifiers: These can help stop a person’s ears and throat from drying out. This could prevent symptoms such as itching and irritation.
- Honey and throat lozenges: These can soothe an itchy throat. People should not give lozenges to young children, however, as they are a choking hazard.
- OTC ear drops: These may reduce itching and discomfort. People should never put anything solid, such as a cotton swab, in their ears.
If a person does not know what is causing their symptoms, they should first see their doctor.
Depending on what is causing the itchy throat and ears, a doctor may consider the following options to treat the symptoms:
Doctors prescribe treatments to manage allergy symptoms because there are currently no cures for allergies.
When a person receives a diagnosis of an allergy that causes an itchy throat and ears, the doctor may prescribe antihistamines (to reduce the body’s immune response to the allergen) or decongestants and nasal sprays (to help reduce discomfort).
If a person has severe symptoms alongside an itchy throat or ears, it could mean that they are experiencing anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis requires immediate medical attention.
Its symptoms include:
- skin flushing
- difficulty breathing
- throat swelling
- tongue swelling
- a loss consciousness
Colds and sinusitis
There is no cure for the common cold, and because it develops due to a virus, antibiotics are unable to treat it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that people can relieve cold symptoms by:
- Resting: When a person has a cold, their body uses a lot of energy to fight the infection. Resting can help the body focus its energy on overcoming the virus.
- Drinking fluids: A cold makes the body lose more fluid than usual, as it creates mucus to help rid the body of the virus. Drinking extra fluids will help the body recover.
- Breathing in steam: People could help ease their congestion by breathing in steam from a bowl of hot water or when they are taking a shower.
Sinusitis can sometimes develop after a cold and may need treatment with antibiotics. The CDC suggest that people use nasal sprays to help relieve the symptoms.
A person can take several steps to prevent their ears and throat from itching. They can do this by preventing the causes of these symptoms.
Colds and other viruses
The CDC suggest that a person can reduce their risk of getting a cold by:
- washing the hands regularly
- covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing
- avoiding people who have cold symptoms
According to the ACAAI, the most effective treatment for an allergy is avoiding the allergen. This may be possible for allergies to food or medication, but it might be more difficult for other allergens.
For pollen allergies:
- Keep the windows closed when there is a high pollen count.
- Wear sunglasses while outdoors to prevent pollen from getting in the eyes.
- Wear a face mask if going outside when there is a high pollen count.
- Avoid drying clothes and bedding outside, as pollen can stick to the fabric.
For dander and dust allergies:
- Keep pets out of the bedroom.
- Wash the bedding often.
- Avoid grooming pets, or wear a face mask when doing so.
- Consider wooden or tiled floors rather than carpets in the home.
For mold allergies:
- Aim to keep humidity in the home at less than 50%.
- Clean up all leaks and spills to prevent mold from growing.
- Schedule regular deep cleans of the home.
Allergies are more common in children, but symptoms may improve as they get older.
Some underlying health conditions, such as asthma, could make symptoms worse or increase the risk of developing an allergy.
If a person’s family member has allergies, they may share similar genes and develop the allergy themselves.
An allergist is a doctor who specializes in allergies. They can give advice on managing and treating allergy symptoms, such as an itchy throat or ears.
Some people can manage a mild allergy by taking OTC medication and minimizing contact with allergens.
However, the ACAAI recommend seeing an allergist if:
- allergies disrupt daily life
- a person has difficulty breathing
- a person has lasting or repeat sinus infections
- antihistamines are not effective or cause side effects
Before seeing an allergist, a person should make a note of their symptoms and how long they have lasted.
If a person has an itchy throat and ears with a fever that lasts for longer than 4 days, they should see a doctor.
If a person has symptoms of sinusitis, it is important that they talk to a doctor to prevent the infection from getting worse or spreading. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
If a person has additional symptoms, such as vomiting, and is struggling to breathe, they may have anaphylaxis. This requires emergency medical attention.
Cold symptoms, including an itchy throat and ears, should disappear within 10 days. If a person washes their hands regularly and avoids people who have cold symptoms, they can reduce their risk of catching colds.
Allergies may run in families, so if a person has a direct relative who has an allergy, they may share the same genes and develop the allergy. Avoiding the allergen can minimize the symptoms.
Usually, allergy symptoms are treatable with antihistamines. An allergist may recommend additional treatment if symptoms are persistent and OTC medications do not work.
The ears, nose, and throat are connected. This means that allergens, viruses, and bacteria can travel between them. Similar membranes line all three, so the same types of infection can affect the throat and ears.
Symptoms of a cold or sinusitis could present as an itchy throat and ears. Other symptoms may include a blocked nose and fatigue. Taking OTC medications and drinking fluids can help relieve the symptoms and reduce irritation.
If an itchy throat and ears are due to allergies, the symptoms can last longer. A person should see an allergist if the cause of the allergy is not clear or OTC medication is not working.