How to Treat a Throat Tickle or Sore Throat

Sore throats can irritate, causing a throat tickle or itchy throat. They can also be quite painful, especially when swallowing and speaking.

There are many possible causes of a sore or itchy throat or that feeling of mucus in your throat. A cold virus is the most likely, however. In that case, your sore throat should get better in a few days.

Drinking tea, juice, and water can help relieve a sore or itchy throat. Throat lozenges, humidifiers, and other home remedies can help too.

You should see a doctor if your sore throat doesn’t improve in a few days or has other worrying symptoms.

Causes of Itchy and Sore Throats and Mucus in the Throat

Common reasons for a sore throat include:

  • Acid reflux.
  • Allergies.
  • A common cold.
  • COVID.
  • The flu.
  • Mononucleosis (or mono, a virus that usually only infects teens and young adults).
  • Smoking.
  • Strep throat (caused by group A strep bacteria).
  • Yelling or singing loudly for an extended period.

Less commonly, a throat tickle or sore throat could be a sign of HIV, gonorrhea, or another rare virus or disease.

Most common cold viruses start with a minor tickle or itchy throat. Over the next day, they often worsen, becoming a painful sore throat.

If you develop other cold symptoms, like a cough or runny nose, a cold is likely the cause of your sore throat. If you experience a fever, you could have a more serious virus, like flu, COVID, mono, or strep throat.

Most sore throats will go away on their own as your body expels the virus. However, if you have strep throat, that’s a bacterial infection, and you should get antibiotics.

Strep throat symptoms

A doctor will test you for strep throat if you have a sore throat, as well as:

  • A fever.
  • No cough or runny nose. (These symptoms occur with cold viruses but not with strep throat.)
  • Swollen glands in the neck (just below the jaw).
  • White patches on your throat or tonsils.

Many clinics have rapid throat swab tests, which can tell you if you have strep throat within 15 minutes. Your doctor may also send the specimen to a lab, which can take a day or two to get you the result.

If you have strep throat, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics, even if you feel better. Otherwise, you may not fully treat the bacterial infection, and your symptoms may return.

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When to See a Doctor for a Sore Throat

You should make an appointment with a doctor if:

  • You have phlegm stuck in your throat for months.
  • Your sore throat doesn’t start to get better within three days.
  • Your sore throat keeps coming back days or weeks after going away.

If you experience the following symptoms with your sore throat, go to the hospital or an urgent care clinic. These could suggest your sore throat has a more serious cause:

  • Coughing up blood.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • A high fever (103 degrees or above) or a fever that lasts more than three days.
  • A skin rash could be due to a strep infection. (This is much more likely in children younger than 15.)
  • A stiff neck could indicate meningitis, a dangerous infection around the brain.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • White spots at the back of your mouth or red spots on the roof of the mouth could suggest a strep infection.

How to Treat a Throat Tickle or Sore Throat

Dryness increases irritation in the throat, causing a throat tickle, itchy throat, and pain. That’s why many sore throat remedies focus on increasing moisture.

You can help relieve a sore throat by:

  • Drinking liquids often, including water, juice, tea, and soup. (Avoid too much coffee because caffeine can be dehydrating.)
  • Gargling with salt water (dissolve half a teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of warm water).
  • Quitting smoking and staying away from second-hand smoke.
  • Running a humidifier.
  • Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candies to increase saliva production.
  • Sucking on popsicles or ice cubes to reduce swelling in the throat.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain-relieving medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Trying an over-the-counter decongestant reduces the mucus that drips at the back of the throat and irritates it. Beware that using a decongestant for more than three days can actually cause congestion. That’s because the body becomes dependent on the medication.

Some health food or online stores sell herbal or homeopathic remedies for sore throats. But these aren’t backed by medical evidence and can contain harmful contaminants.

Treating Sore Throats Caused by Reasons Other Than Infections

Sometimes, sore throats happen for reasons other than viral or bacterial infections. Here’s how to deal with them.

Sore or itchy throat from allergies

If your sore throat or tickle in your throat is from allergies, you may also have watery, itchy eyes and a runny nose.  An over-the-counter antihistamine should help, in addition to the remedies mentioned above. You should also determine the cause of your allergy so you can avoid the allergen.

If you’re not sure what’s causing your allergic reaction, your doctor can refer you for allergy tests.

Sore or itchy throat from smoking

If you have a sore throat from smoking, see your doctor to get support. They can give you medications and counseling to help you quit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health care organizations also offer free online resources to help you quit.

Sore or itchy throat from acid reflux

If acid reflux is causing your sore throat, you will also notice heartburn — a burning pain in the middle of the chest. This is usually worse when lying down and after eating. You may feel stomach contents coming back up to your throat and get a sour taste in your mouth.

Over-the-counter antacid medication can help. Your doctor can also advise you on changing your diet to avoid acid reflux.

Sore throat from overuse

If you have a sore throat from yelling or singing loudly, rest your throat by avoiding speaking when possible or talking softly. You can also try the home remedies listed above.

Unexplained sore throat

A sore throat that won’t go away or keeps coming back is likely because of something other than a common virus. See your doctor for an exam and tests if you have a persistent or recurring sore throat.

American Academy of Family Physicians. Fever. Link

American Academy of Family Physicians. Sore Throat. Link

American Osteopathic Association. Sore Throat. Link

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Nasal Allergies (Rhinitis). Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Quit Smoking. Link

Dr. Wendy Stead. Sore throat in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. Link

MedlinePlus. Pharyngitis — sore throat. Link

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