We all get a tickle in our throat from time to time and generally this is considered a minor irritation that will pass. Usually we associate it with an infection such as a cold or consider a cough part and parcel of being generally ill. However if an itchy throat persists it can become quite distressing, causing us to lose sleep, hurt our throats through excessive coughing and lose concentration. Getting to the cause of an itchy throat then is important to enable you to treat it and thereby get some respite from the itch.
The inside walls of the throat are coated with a mucosal membrane which contains nerves that can be irritated by air, food, virus or allergies. The purpose of this mucus however is to lubricate the throat and to allow air and food to pass easily through. When this mucus dries out due to infection, dehydration or another cause then this will leave the sensitive flesh underneath exposed and susceptible to irritation. Alternatively if the mucus membranes begin producing too much fluid this can cause the throat to become ‘clogged’ which again will tickle the throat and require constant ‘clearing’.
A common cause of an itchy throat then is dehydration which causes the throat to become dry and hoarse as the body can no longer produce mucus. The obvious solution to this dehydration is to drink water. However if your dehydration persists or you seem unable to quench your thirst then this could be a result of another condition, for example it might be a result of diarrhea which can leave the body dehydrated due to the expulsion of liquid. Alternatively it might be a sign of diabetes, where constant thirst is one of the symptoms (caused by frequent urination intended to expel the additional glucose in the blood). Other viruses can cause a tickling in the throat due to constant coughing, while there are a wide range of those that will leave you constantly dehydrated.
Your diet and lifestyle could also be contributing to dehydration and thus an itchy throat. Diet habits include consuming caffeine and other stimulants (such as sports drinks) can dehydrate you and act as a diuretic. Similarly so too can recreational drugs (opium, cannabis and cocaine to a very large degree), some medicines (antidepressants among others) and smoking which coats the throat in tar (and can lead to throat cancer). Changing these habits can be one way to prevent an itchy throat. Similarly other behaviours can strain your throat – such as shouting loudly, singing loudly (and using incorrect technique – here it is advisable to seek tuition if you intend to sing regularly) and snoring. There are many treatments for snoring including sleeping propped upright or on your side.
Other things can cause your throat to become dry. A blocked nose can cause you to breath through your mouth which will also dry out the throat. Cough sweets and cough medicine provide relief for many cases of an itchy throat and can also sooth a throat that is become hoarse from lots of coughing. These simply require sucking in order to coat the throat with honey and often antiseptic/painkiller which aims to mimic the role of the mucus that is no longer being produced while healing some of the damage caused by coughing. Similarly you can use home remedies created out of any selection of foods around your home that are similarly soothing and lubricating to do the same job as mucus or a cough sweet or medicine. Examples of possible items to use include honey, yogurt or ice cream. A popular home remedy for an itchy throat is honey mixed with a teaspoon of lemon. Remember that with any illness you should drink extra water to keep your body hydrated, to help it fight infection and to prevent dehydration.
In some cases you might experience an infection in your throat itself or of your tonsils which will likely cause it to become inflamed and angry and which can spread elsewhere if left untreated. Normally a doctor will treat an infection with antibiotics or antiseptics. You can try and treat minor infections and ulcers and sores (which could similarly cause an itchy or sore throat) by gargling with TCP or salt water to kill off bacteria and germs. The best treatment for infection however is always prevention, so in order to prevent the occurrence of infection you should be sure to maintain good oral hygiene, to brush and floss your teeth thoroughly and to use a mouthwash. Meanwhile wash and cook all food thoroughly.
It is also possible of course to damage your throat which might be the result of swallowing something sharp, or something too large. This of course will require a time to heal and it is important to try not to continuously cough as this will further damage the throat. Alternatively an itchy throat could be the result of simply having an item stuck or wedged in the throat itself which would require coughing to remove.
If your itchy throat and coughing persists over a long period of time (if it is chronic) and does not then it is important to find the cause. Similarly if your cough is recurring then this too might point to a more long term underlying cause which will require a more long term solution. For example if you suffer from tonsillitis regularly then you might be offered surgery to remove the tonsils, though this is less common than it once was. If you are constantly suffering from dehydration then use the lifestyle and diet changes suggested above; if this has no effect on your dehydration then you should see a doctor and may be suffering from something more serious.
Finally, another cause of a persistent itchy throat could be psychomatic which suggests that it is caused by your psychology. This often occurs after a condition that has caused you to cough a lot such as a cold or tonsillitis at which point the urge has become almost habit. As such you then continue to cough despite the lack of any actual cause. This then becomes self-perpetuating as the coughing itself irritates the throat making you cough more. If you become conscious of yourself coughing out of habit, then you need to train yourself not to and fight the urge. It is said that it takes 30 days to break a habit, so if you can hold off coughing and clearing your throat for that long then you should find the problem disappears.
Coughing and clearing your throat can also be a sign of nervousness. Often socially shy individuals will cough often while they are talking, or continually clear their throats. It is not unusual to experience an itchy throat when you come to give a speech or presentation (which is obviously unfortunately poor timing as you will need your speaking voice to be at its best. The best solution here is to practice calming techniques, self talk, meditation and others to prevent the coughing. If you find this is a persistent and invasive problem, then you may wish to seek CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which can help you to overcome the problem).
It is important to note the difference between an itching cough that originates in your chest and one that originates in your throat. A cough in your chest could well be a sign of something more serious such as tuberculosis, pneumonia or chest infection.