Tickle in Throat Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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A tickle in your throat can be caused by an infection, inflammatory conditions, or other chronic conditions, and treatments range from home treatment to doctor visits. Read more below to learn about that tickle sensation in your throat and its possible causes, treatments, and more.
Tickle in throat symptoms
Approximately 1% of the population reports a tickling or dripping sensation in the back of the throat which persists in spite of repeated attempts to clear it. The sensation is often accompanied by a persistent dry cough. This sensation is known as postnasal drip syndrome and is caused by inflammation the upper respiratory tract.
Many conditions can cause upper respiratory tract inflammation, with some of the most common being infections, allergies, or environmental irritants. Postnasal drip syndrome can typically be managed with over the counter medications and will resolve on its own. However, airway irritation or cough that persists for more than 8 weeks should be evaluated by a medical doctor to rule out more serious chronic conditions like obstructive airway disease, chronic infection, or gastrointestinal reflux disease.
Common accompanying symptoms of a tickle in your throat
What causes a tickle in the throat?
A tickling sensation in the back of the throat is due to irritation in the upper airway. This is commonly due to infection or inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. Infections can cause the irritating sensation, and the sensation can persist for weeks following resolution of the infection. Inflammation due to environmental factors like dust or pollen or due to medications is another common cause of upper airway irritation. Some chronic medical conditions can also cause upper airway irritation and tickle in throat symptoms.
Infectious causes of tickle in the throat may include the following.
- Upper respiratory tract: Tickle in the throat, sore throat, and cough are all symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, common in the winter months and typically caused by viruses.
- Sinus: Viral or bacterial infections in the sinuses can cause a post-nasal drip leading to a tickle in the back of the throat, dripping sensation, or cough.
- Post-infectious: Postnasal drip is common following a respiratory illness and can cause a tickling or dripping sensation in the back for the throat that persists for weeks after resolution of other symptoms.
Inflammation may occur due to the following, resulting in a tickle in your throat.
- Environmental: Irritants in the air like smoke, chemicals, pet hair, pollen, or dust can cause irritation in the upper airway, resulting in airway irritation and tickle in throat symptoms.
- Medications: Some medications cause airway irritation, particularly angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors like lisinopril.
Other chronic conditions
Chronic conditions can result in a tickle in your throat as an accompanying symptom.
- Obstructive airway disease: We typically think of wheezing to be a symptom of obstruction to flow in the airway, but chronic cough and irritation in the throat can be symptoms as well.
- Acid reflux: Acid reflux is a very common condition, but many people don't realize that in addition to typical reflux symptoms, acid can irritate the upper airway and cause a cough or tickling sensation.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening condition most commonly caused by an allergic reaction. In anaphylaxis, two types of immune cells — mast cells and basophils — are suddenly activated and release numerous inflammatory substances that cause blood vessels to dilate and become leaky, which can lead to low ...
Allergies 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.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, runny nose, congestion
Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergies: fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
Post-infectious cough is a cough that begins with a cold or other upper respiratory infection, but does not clear up when the infection does. Instead, it lingers for three weeks or more and becomes chronic.
Most susceptible are smokers, because the irritation from the smoke provokes the cough. Other common causes are post-nasal drip, asthma, and some high blood pressure medications.
Symptoms include an irritating sensation in the throat that may provoke severe bouts of coughing. Some coughing is normal and is part of the body's mechanism to clear the air passages and expel any foreign material, but such a cough should only be brief and intermittent.
A post-infectious cough can interfere with quality of life. A medical provider should be seen for help with the condition, both to ease the symptoms and to rule out a more serious cause for the coughing.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and chest x-ray, with the goal of ruling out different conditions one by one until the actual cause is found and can be treated.
Top Symptoms: cough, congestion, clear runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, hoarse voice
Symptoms that always occur with post-infectious cough: cough
Symptoms that never occur with post-infectious cough: fever
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
Rhinitis simply means "inflammation of the nose." When it is caused by something other than allergies, it is called vasomotor rhinitis. "Vasomotor" simply refers to the constriction or dilation of blood vessels.
Different substances can trigger the vasomotor reaction, even though it is not an allergic reaction. Common causes are certain medications; air pollution; and chronic medical conditions.
Symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and postnasal drip. Since no allergy is involved, there will not be the scratchy throat or itchy eyes and nose of allergic rhinitis.
A medical provider should be seen for ongoing symptoms, since they can interfere with quality of life. Also, using over-the-counter medications meant for allergic rhinitis will not help in a case of vasomotor rhinitis.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and allergy tests, in order to rule out allergies as a cause of the symptoms.
Treatment involves using the appropriate medications to ease the symptoms, and avoiding any triggers as much as possible.
Top Symptoms: congestion, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, runny nose, frequent sneezing, eye itch
Symptoms that never occur with non-allergic rhinitis: fever, sinus pain, facial fullness or pressure
New-onset seasonal allergies
New-onset seasonal allergies, also called adult-onset seasonal allergies, are sensitivities to pollen, mold, and other irritants that cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and sore throat.
Seasonal allergies commonly begin in childhood but can start at any age, especially among those with a family history. Moving to a different geographic location may trigger the allergy in someone with a genetic predisposition. Anyone with asthma is more likely to experience adult-onset seasonal allergies.
Sometimes the symptoms are actually from "pregnancy rhinitis" – nasal congestion and sneezing due to the effects of pregnancy hormones on the nasal tissue.
A new-onset allergy is often thought to be a cold, but a cold will clear up without treatment. Allergies persist, never getting better or worse, and can interfere with quality of life.
Diagnosis is made by an allergist, who will use skin tests and blood tests.
There is no cure for seasonal allergies but the symptoms can be managed for greater comfort and relief. Antihistamines, corticosteroid nasal sprays, and immunotherapy or "allergy shots" can be very effective.
Top Symptoms: sore throat, congestion, cough with dry or watery sputum, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, fatigue
Symptoms that never occur with new-onset seasonal allergies: fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
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.
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
Treatment and relief for tickle in throat
When it is an emergency
Seek emergency treatment if you have a persistent or high fever or you have difficulty breathing.
Many causes of upper airway irritation can be managed at home with lifestyle modification and over-the-counter medication.
- Avoiding triggers: If the tickling sensation is due to environmental factors such as dust, pollen, or pets, avoiding the triggering factor may help relieve symptoms.
- Lifestyle modification: If the tickling sensation is due to reflux, lifestyle modification such as weight loss, smoking cessation, avoiding fatty or acidic foods, and avoiding meals 2-3 hours prior to bedtime may help relieve tickle in throat symptoms.
- Allergy medication: Antihistamines or antihistamine/decongestant combinations like Allegra, Claritin, or Zyrtec are the first line treatment for many causes of post-nasal drip.
- Cough suppressant: Dextromethorphan (Robitussin) is an over the counter cough suppressant that can help with symptom management, particularly for coughing at night.
When to see a doctor
Some infectious causes of upper airway irritation require evaluation by a doctor. Additionally, some chronic conditions that cause upper airway inflammation require evaluation and treatment by a doctor. In general, if you have upper airway irritation or cough that persists for more than eight weeks, seek medical treatment .
- Imaging: A doctor may order a chest x-ray to assess for possible causes of airway irritation.
- Intranasal steroids: If the tickling sensation is due to allergic causes, a doctor may recommend an intranasal steroid spray like fluticasone (Flonase).
- Inhalers: If the irritation is due to airway obstruction, a doctor may prescribe an inhaled corticosteroid as treatment.
- Antibiotics: If the irritation is being caused by an acute or chronic bacterial infection in the sinuses or airway, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
- Acid Suppressants: If the irritation is being caused by acid reflux, a doctor may prescribe acid suppressant medication to improve symptoms.
- Medication change: If the airway irritation is due to side effect from a medication, a doctor may change the prescription. Do not change or stop your medication without consulting a doctor first.
FAQs about tickle in throat
Why do I always have a tickle in my throat at night?
A tickle in the throat is due to irritation in the upper airway, and can be caused by multiple different infectious or inflammatory conditions. This irritation, often referred to as "post-nasal drip" is most commonly due to an upper airway infection, and can persist for weeks following resolution of other symptoms.
What causes a tickle in your throat that makes you cough?
Irritation to the upper airway due to infectious, allergic, or environmental factors cause a tickling or dripping sensation in the back of the throat leading to cough. Some of the most common causes of upper airway irritation are viral infections, allergies, or environmental irritants. Some chronic conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD) can also cause irritation in the upper airway.
What causes a persistent dry tickly cough?
Irritation to the upper airway due to infectious, allergic, or environmental factors cause a ticking or dripping sensation in the back of the throat leading to cough. Some of the most common causes of persistent dry cough are viral infections, allergies, or environmental irritants such as smoking or pollen. Some chronic conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD) can also cause irritation lead to persistent dry cough.
Why won't the tickle in my throat go away?
Irritation to the upper airway due to infection can persist for up to 8 weeks following the resolution of other symptoms. Irritation to the airway may also be due to allergies or environmental irritants, in which case symptoms may persist until the allergen is avoided. Additionally, the irritation may be due to a chronic condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD) and require diagnosis and treatment by a doctor.
How long does it take for a tickly cough to go away?
Typically, airway irritation due to viral illness will resolve within 8 weeks. Often, cough persists well after the infection is cleared due to persistent irritation in the airway. The persistence of cough does not necessarily mean that the infection is still present. However if the cough is due to a chronic condition or allergy, it may persist until the allergen is removed or the underlying condition is treated.
Questions your doctor may ask about tickle in throat
- Do you have a runny nose?
- Are you experiencing chills?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Do your symptoms seem to have started or worsened after exposure to dust mite? (dust mite is commonly found in carpets, bedding, pillows and blankets)
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Martin is an Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University where she majored in Human Biology, and received her MD from the University of Pennsylvania. She’s interested in Emergency Medical Services and Flight Medicine, and is currently a resident flight physician with Airlift Northwest. In her free time, she enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, cycling, rock climbing, and trail running!
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