Causes of throat irritation range from common colds and allergies to smoking and throat cancer. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

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Throat irritation is a common problem for many people. Generally, the symptoms are temporary and go away within a week or so.

There are a number of different symptoms of throat irritation. These include:

  • a dry cough
  • throat pain
  • pain while eating or speaking
  • a scratchy feeling in the throat
  • the sensation of a lump in the throat
  • the feeling that something is stuck in the back of the throat
  • the feeling of dust in the throat

There are a number of causes of throat irritation. Keep reading to learn about several of them, including treatment options.

The common cold is, as its name suggests, very common. On average, adults get 2–3 colds per year. A common cold usually lasts around 7–10 days.

More than 200 viruses can cause a cold, and they spread from person to person through droplets in the air or on surfaces.


The main symptoms of a common cold include:

  • throat irritation
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • blocked or runny nose
  • headaches


There is no cure for a common cold. A person can just treat their symptoms. Treatments can include:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • drinking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain
  • gargling salt water to treat throat pain (not suitable for children)
  • inhaling steam to relieve a blocked nose

Learn more about the common cold and its stages here.

COVID-19 can also cause throat irritation. This is a highly contagious disease that results from a viral infection. The virus SARS-CoV-2, a type of coronavirus, is what causes COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms may appear 2–14 days after a person is exposed to the virus.

COVID-19 is very contagious. A person who has symptoms of COVID-19 should remain at home, unless a doctor has advised them to do otherwise. They should also:

  • take a COVID-19 test to confirm the diagnosis
  • isolate and stay away from other people at home as much as possible
  • call ahead before visiting a doctor’s office to inform them that they may have COVID-19

A person should seek prompt medical care if they believe they have COVID-19 and are having breathing difficulties.

Coronavirus data

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date. Visit our coronavirus hub for the most recent information on COVID-19.

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A person with COVID-19 may experience a range of symptoms that can vary from mild to severe. The common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • throat irritation
  • fever
  • chills
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • loss of taste or smell
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea


There is no known cure for COVID-19. However, a person can treat the symptoms of COVID-19. They should:

  • get plenty of rest
  • drink lots of fluids
  • have small, frequent, nutritious meals
  • take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce a fever and ease pain

Learn more about COVID-19 here.

Allergies can cause throat irritation among other symptoms. Allergies are very common, with over 50 million people in the United States having some form of allergy.

If a person is experiencing throat irritation due to an allergic reaction, then they may feel the symptoms for as long as they are exposed to the allergen.

Common allergies include pollen, dust mites, cats and dogs, and a variety of foods, including peanuts and shellfish.


Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • throat irritation
  • itchy mouth
  • red, swollen lips and mouth

There are many other symptoms that vary depending on the specific allergy. A person may also experience additional symptoms such as hives and asthma.


Treatments for allergic reactions vary depending on the symptoms and their severity. It is important to reduce exposure to the allergen.

A person may find OTC antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroid sprays helpful.

If a person has more severe symptoms they may require prescription medications such as immunotherapy.

Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx. The larynx is another name for the voicebox. Laryngitis usually occurs suddenly and tends to get worse during the first 3 days. Laryngitis can be acute or chronic, however, it is mostly temporary with no serious consequences.

It is a common problem that affects around 21% of the population at some point in their lifetime.


Common symptoms of laryngitis include:

  • throat irritation
  • a hoarse voice
  • difficulty speaking
  • a low fever
  • coughing
  • throat clearing


Laryngitis tends to go away on its own. However, a person can treat the symptoms of laryngitis in a number of ways. These include:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • speaking as little as possible
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • gargling warm salty water (not suitable for children)
  • avoiding the inhalation of irritants, such as those that come from smoking or second hand smoke

Learn more about laryngitis here.

Epiglottitis is the inflammation of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is the flap in the throat that prevents food from entering the windpipe and going into a person’s lungs.

When the epiglottis is inflamed it can block a person’s airway which can be dangerous. Acute epiglottitis can be life-threatening.

Infections and physical trauma can cause epiglottitis.


Symptoms of epiglottitis include:

  • throat irritation
  • fever
  • pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • irritability and restlessness
  • harsh or noisy breathing
  • difficulty catching breath

If left untreated, epiglottitis can cause a blocked airway. This can cause the skin to turn a bluish color due to lack of oxygen.


A person with epiglottitis should seek medical help. The medical staff will usually secure the person’s airways to ensure they can breathe effectively.

Then they will carry out tests to locate the cause of the problem. If the infection is bacterial, which is the most common cause, the doctor will treat it with antibiotics.

Learn more about epiglottitis here.

Strep throat is a common throat infection. Exposure to a strain of the streptococcus bacteria causes strep throat.


The most common symptoms of strep throat include:

  • throat irritation
  • pain when swallowing
  • a fever
  • swollen and red tonsils
  • white patches on the throat
  • swollen and tender glands at the back of the throat


Bacteria causes strep throat. Therefore, a doctor will treat strep throat by administering antibiotics. This can prevent rheumatic fever and other complications.

Learn more about strep throat here.

Acid reflux is a common condition in the U.S.A.. It is commonly known as heartburn and occurs when stomach acid flows back up into a person’s esophagus.

According to The American College of Gastroenterology, over 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month.


Symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • throat irritation
  • burning or discomfort behind the breastbone that moves up towards the throat
  • a sour or bitter taste in the back of the throat


There are a number of treatments that a person can use to treat acid reflux. These include:

  • OTC treatments such as antacids
  • H2 blockers such as cimetidine and famotidine
  • proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole, rabeprazole, and esomeprazole
  • alginate drugs

Learn more about acid reflux here.

Throat cancer is a rare form of cancer. It can cause throat irritation among a number of other symptoms.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) a person has a 1.2% chance of developing cancer in their throat or mouth. This means if a person is experiencing throat irritation, it is far more likely to be one of the above causes, rather than throat cancer. However, people should be aware that it is a possibility.

There are a number of different types of throat cancer that each affect a different part of the throat.


Early symptoms of throat cancer include:

  • throat irritation
  • a cough that does not go away
  • pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • ear pain
  • a lump in the neck or throat
  • a hoarse voice


There are a number of different ways to treat throat cancer. The treatment varies depending on the type and stage of cancer present.

Treatments for throat cancer include:

Learn more about throat cancer here.

Smoking tobacco or other substances can lead to throat irritation. Inhaling the substances and chemicals, as well as the hot air from smoking, can irritate sensitive tissues lining the throat.

The obvious solution is to quit smoking.

Learn more about how smoking harms your health here.

Quitting smoking is no easy thing, but there are a number of things people can do. Read about some of them here,

Throat irritation is a common problem and often goes away without treatment. However, in some instances medical treatment is required.

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery, a person should seek medical help if they have any of the following issues:

  • severe and persistent sore throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing or opening their mouth
  • swelling in the face or neck
  • a fever of 101°F or above
  • blood present in their saliva or mucus
  • a lump in their neck
  • hoarseness that lasts for longer than 2 weeks
  • earache
  • a rash

Throat irritation is a common issue. It can be uncomfortable, however, generally the symptoms will go away within 1–2 weeks.

Issues such as the common cold, viral infections, strep throat, or acid reflux can all cause throat irritation. However, throat irritation can sometimes be a sign that a more serious issue is present.

A person can often treat throat irritation with a number of home remedies or OTC products. However, if a person has difficulty breathing, or their symptoms become persistent, they should seek medical help.