Often having a burning sensation in your throat is not a cause for a serious condition but occasionally it can warrant medical intervention. When a medical condition causes irritation in the throat, it is accompanied by other symptoms. To understand the underlying cause of your burning throat, consulting an experienced ENT doctor to get a diagnosis and treatment plan will be a recommended option.
ENT Specialist Dr Annabelle Leong shares some of the common causes behind a burning throat in her patients:
Acid Reflux or GERD
Acid reflux from the stomach may not always represent in the traditional way of a heartburn; instead it could show up as throat irritation, along with chronic cough and an urge to clear the throat. Acid reflux occurs when there is a leaky muscle between the stomach and the oesophagus. At times it could even lead to a burning tongue or recurrent noises from the throat. Checking the pH of the throat with a fine probe is performed to check for acid reflux. Additional tests include naso-endoscopy or a special X-ray with Barium to swallow. Acid reflux symptoms can vary from being mild to severe. Symptoms of GERD includes:
- Hoarse voice
- Feeling a lump in the throat
- Chest pain
To treat heart burns, antacids, H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors are used. Lifestyle changes will also further help including exercise, reducing weight, eating less spicy foods and quitting smoking.
Cold and Flu Infections
When someone comes down with the flu or a bad cold, then it is normal to have an irritation in the throat. This is brought about as part of a sore throat and is mainly due to a viral or bacterial infection. The infection can even spread to the tonsils. Tonsillitis is very common in young children. When one ages into adulthood, the tonsils shrink, but in some individuals, the tonsils tend to remain enlarged, which puts such individuals at a higher risk of infection. Individuals with sore throats find it hard to eat and drink. Strep throat is caused by Group B Strep. Bacteria and antibiotics are given to relieve these symptoms. Patients with a Strep throat have red, swollen tonsils with white patches or streaks, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and often accompanied by a fever. The ENT specialist can check Strep throat with a simple throat swab.
Upper respiratory tract infections such as pharyngitis too can lead to a throat irritation. However, if one has a strong immune system, these symptoms can be overcome naturally. Common cold and flu are generally caused by viral infections which lead to runny nose, stuffiness and sneezing along with discomfort in the throat. Colds are generally relieved with over the counter pain relieving medications, consuming plenty of fluids, rest and warm water gargling.
Postnasal drip is when mucus which lines the nose builds up to the point it drips down the back of your throat. Respiratory infections, allergies or even cold weather can cause this symptom. Postnasal drip leads to a tickle in the throat with frequent swallowing and throat clearing. Generally, ENT doctors advise of antihistamines and decongestants.
Individuals who have nasal allergy problems can cause a high backflow of mucus from the nose to the throat. It leads to itchiness in the throat. Allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies can cause a drainage pathway of the sinuses leading to sinusitis. Untreated sinusitis can cause throat infections. Nasal allergies can be controlled with a sea salt nasal rinse, nasal steroid sprays and antihistamine medications.
Epstein-Barr virus can cause infectious mononucleosis which is very contagious. The virus can spread through saliva. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, rash and headaches in addition to a burning throat. There is no specific treatment and healing includes using over the counter pain relievers, staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest.
This is an infection which occurs in the neck and head. It occurs when pus is collected at the back of the throat close to the tonsil, making it swollen and painful. It is common in young adults and it is a complication of tonsilitis. Untreated peritonsillar abscess can cause the tonsil to push into the middle and block breathing. Swollen lymph nodes and trouble swallowing are common symptoms and the treatment involves draining the abscess or potentially a tonsillectomy. It is important to have prompt treatment by an otolaryngologist.
A burning throat could potentially be a symptom of throat cancer in rare cases. If one has discomfort and pain when swallowing, it could be due to a throat cancer. Generally, a burning throat from an infection improves in a week or two, however with cancer the pain doesn’t go away. When one has throat cancer then it can lead to difficulty swallowing, ear pain and a lump in the neck. Weight loss and hoarseness in the voice may also be present. If you are having any of these symptoms, then see an otolaryngologist immediately.
Some methods to ease the burning sensation
If you feel that your throat is sore and raw, the following suggestions may ease your discomfort:
- Gargle with salt water
- Suck on a throat lozenge
- Having a cool mist humidifier to add moisture in the room air.
- Purchase over the counter pain relievers like paracetamol and ibuprofen
- Staying hydrated
If you are uncertain of the cause behind your throat irritation or if the condition has not improved with time, it will be best to contact a recommended ENT Clinic for a further evaluation and treatment.
Lynn Martelli is an editor at Readability. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and has worked as an editor for over 10 years. Lynn has edited a wide variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and more. In her free time, Lynn enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.