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What Causes an Itchy Mouth? Your Symptoms Explained

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Last updated August 27, 2020

Itchy mouth quiz

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An itchy mouth is also known as oral allergy syndrome and is often associated with a mouth tingling sensation, along with an itchy throat and tongue. An itchy roof of mouth is commonly caused by eating certain foods that contain pollen that may cause an allergic reaction. Read below for a list of foods that can cause an itchy mouth and treatment options.

Itchy mouth quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your itch.

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Symptoms of an itchy mouth

Even though being "itchy" is a symptom of many ailments, you probably never expected to find your mouth feeling that way. However, an itchy mouth is not uncommon in cases of allergy or irritation and is one of the body's ways of letting you know that you may be eating something harmful. "Itchy mouth" is formally known as oral allergy syndrome, OAS, or pollen-food syndrome.

Common characteristics of an itchy mouth

If you're experiencing an itchy mouth, it will likely present with:

  • Widespread sensations: A strange, itchy, tingling sensation inside the mouth, also involving the lips, tongue, throat, and roof of the mouth.
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat
  • Itchy ear canals
  • An unusual taste in the mouth

Duration of symptoms

Symptoms usually do not last for more than about five to 20 minutes.

  • If you have a food allergy: The symptoms will stop if you simply take the food out of your mouth.
  • If you eat the food you're allergic to: The symptoms disappear once your stomach has digested it, and the troublesome proteins have been broken down.

Who is most often affected?

Young children are rarely affected. Oral allergy syndrome usually first shows up in older children, teenagers, or young adults, even though they may have been eating the foods in question for years with no problem. These allergies may get progressively worse as you get older.

When is itchy mouth most likely to occur?

Symptoms usually begin quickly, within minutes of eating the problematic food. In rarer cases, hours may go by before symptoms occur.

Is itchy mouth serious?

The severity of your itchy mouth depends on the cause and other associated symptoms.

  • Less serious: Mild reactions usually do not progress beyond the head and might include runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and dry cough.
  • Moderately serious: With stronger reactions, there may also be reddened, swollen, itchy patches called hives showing up anywhere on the skin. You might also experience upset stomach with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Serious: A reaction that seems mild at first, but rapidly intensifies, can quickly become a life-threatening medical emergency.

What causes itching in lips, tongue, roof of mouth, and throat?

An itchy mouth means that you are not just allergic to the fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, seeds, or even spices that you're eating. It means you are actually allergic to the pollen of some wild trees and plants — usually birch trees, grasses, and ragweed.

The food in question has similar proteins to the pollen, so your immune system reacts to the food the same way it reacts to the pollen: by producing an itchy mouth and throat, along with other allergy symptoms. Very ripe fruits and vegetables may provoke a stronger reaction than those that are less ripe.

Triggers of an itchy mouth related to allergies

The following are more likely to trigger symptoms of an itchy mouth, in addition to eating an offending food.

  • Being outside where there is pollen that you're allergic to, and then eating one of the foods that cause your symptoms: This can cause a severe and sudden reaction.
  • Exercising: This can make the allergic effect happen almost immediately upon eating the offensive food.
  • Drinking alcohol: This can also intensify the symptoms.

Foods related to a birch tree pollen allergy

If you are allergic to birch tree pollen (the most common allergen that causes an itchy mouth), you may experience symptoms if you eat:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Kiwifruit
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds

Foods related to a grass pollen allergy

If you are allergic to grass pollen, you may experience symptoms if you eat:

  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Melons
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery

Foods related to a ragweed pollen allergy

If you are allergic to ragweed pollen, you may experience symptoms if you eat:

  • Melons
  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Allergic reaction (not life-threatening)

When the body encounters a harmful substance, it responds with inflammation and swelling that can be protective. In many individuals, the body responds this way to substances that are not normally harmful, like foods or pollen. This is the basis of allergy, or Type 1 Hypersensitivity.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: swollen face, swollen lips, lip numbness, hives, red swollen bumps or patches with a pale center, lip redness

Symptoms that never occur with allergic reaction (not life-threatening): shortness of breath, throat itching

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Itchy mouth quiz

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Viral throat infection

A sore throat is most often caused by the same viruses that cause influenza and the common cold. The illness spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and then someone else inhales the airborne virus or touches a surface where it has landed.

Those most at risk for viral sore throat are children, smokers, those who work indoors with others, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Symptoms include throat irritation; pain when swallowing or talking; red, swollen tonsils; fever; body aches; and cold-like symptoms of cough, sneezing, and runny nose.

If symptoms do not clear up within 24 hours – especially in children – a medical provider should be seen. A persistent sore throat can be a symptom of serious illness such as mononucleosis, measles, chickenpox, or croup.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and throat swab.

Treatment involves rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Do not give aspirin to children. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and cannot help against a viral illness.

The best prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing.

Seasonal allergies

Allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, are an overreaction by the immune system to something that does not bother most other people. Many people who have allergies are sensitive to pollen, but other things such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold can also cause a reaction.

Allergies are a benign condition, that can cause symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Treat by avoiding the allergens that trigger your symptoms, or with an over-the-counter medication such as loratidine (Claritin), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, dermatitis, atopic eczema, or AD, is a chronic skin condition with an itchy rash.

AD is not contagious. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens.

AD is most often seen in infants and young children. Most susceptible are those with a family history of AD, asthma, or hay fever.

Infants will have a dry, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp, forehead, and cheeks. Older children will have the rash in the creases of elbows, knees, and buttocks.

Without treatment, a child may have trouble sleeping due to the intense itching. Constant scratching may cause skin infections and the skin may turn thickened and leathery.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, patient history, and allergen skin tests.

AD cannot be cured, but can be controlled through prescribed medications, skin care, stress management, and treatment of food allergies. Those with AD often have allergies to milk, nuts, and shellfish. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized helps prevent flareups.

Common cold

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that can cause cough, congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. Most adults catch two to three colds per year, and kids can get more than eight colds each year.

Rest and drink plenty of fluids. Colds are contagious and can easily spread to other people, so if possible, avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Colds typically resolve within 7 to 10 days.

Cold sore

A cold sore, also called a fever blister or herpes, is actually a collection of tiny, fluid-filled, crusted blisters.

Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex viruses HSV-1 and HSV-2. The sores are highly contagious through direct contact, such as kissing or oral sex, even when no sore is visible.

Most susceptible are young adults who are sexually active, though anyone can be infected. The virus can also survive on shared towels, eating utensils, etc.

Symptoms include a tingling or burning sensation around the lips, nose, or cheeks a day or so before the blisters appear. There may also be fever, sore throat, and other flu-like symptoms.

The herpes simplex virus cannot be cured, but cold sores can be managed under medical supervision to ease discomfort and help prevent transmission or complications.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

The blisters usually heal within two to four weeks, but the virus remains dormant within the body and can recur at any time. Antiviral creams or pills are sometimes used to help the healing process.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is the sudden onset of breathing or heart rate changes that are caused by a whole-body allergic reaction. This can be a deadly situation.

Call 911 immediately for an ambulance. If you have been prescribed an epinephrine pen, use it. Don't do this if you have never been prescribed one!

Itchy mouth quiz

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Treatment for itchy roof of mouth, lips, tongue, and throat

When it is an emergency

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you have any sign of the severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis:

  • Trouble swallowing: And feeling as though your throat is closing up
  • Chest pain and weakened pulse
  • Trouble breathing along with feeling faint, or even passing out

When to see a doctor

See a physician if you experience the following.

  • A first-time reaction, even if it seems mild: This is because it may be the first sign of sensitization to the food in question and may become much more severe the next time you eat the same food.
  • Ongoing mild reactions: These can interfere with the quality of life and possibly become severe later on.

At-home treatments

For mild or occasional itchy mouth symptoms, you can try the following remedies at home.

  • Avoiding the foods that seem to cause the reaction
  • Peeling fresh fruit: This is sometimes helpful in avoiding symptoms.
  • Cooking the offending fruits and vegetables: This will usually alter the proteins found in them so that they no longer trigger the allergy. Most of the time, you can still enjoy things like vegetable soup, applesauce, and fruit pie.

FAQs about itchy mouth

Can allergies cause an itchy mouth?

Oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food allergy syndrome can cause mild swelling or itching of the mouth and throat after eating raw fruits, nuts, or vegetables. The symptoms result from a contact rash on the throat. If you begin to have an itchy mouth, you should consider visiting an emergency department. An itchy mouth is often the first sign of an allergic reaction in which an individual loses his or her ability to normally breath as their windpipe closes.

What does persistent itchy mouth mean?

A persistent itchy mouth may be a sign of oral allergy syndrome or allergy flares. Food often triggers it, but it can also be due to pollen. If you have asthma or severe food allergies, you may need to carry a dose of epinephrine (an EpiPen) to treat emergent allergic reactions. If your itchy mouth persists, you should speak with your primary care provider.

What foods can lead to an itchy mouth?

Many foods can lead to an itchy mouth. Fruits and tree nuts like apples, peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, pears, and almonds, as well as vegetables like carrots, celery, coriander, and nuts like soybeans and peanut butter, can cause itchy mouths. However, almost any food can cause an allergic reaction.

Can a sinus infection cause an itchy mouth?

Usually, a sinus infection does not cause an itchy mouth. A wound in the mouth that is healing causes an itching sensation while it heals. A sinus infection can cause pain or pressure on the sinuses of the face, congestion, and even drainage of pus from the nose. If you suspect a sinus infection, see a medical professional for diagnosis.

Do yeast infections cause an itchy mouth?

Yeast infections may cause an itchy mouth. Yeast infections are common in small children who have not yet fully developed their immune systems. For adults, a candida infection within the mouth can be a sign of a much more serious infection that causes the immune system to stop functioning. In this case, you should seek medical attention.

Questions your doctor may ask about itchy mouth

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Where specifically is your mouth pain?
  • Do you suspect that you are sick because of something you ate?
  • Do food or drinks get stuck when you swallow?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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References

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