Causes of Dry Throat: COVID-19, Colds and Flu, or Something Else?


Asian woman sitting up in bed with her hands to her throat in discomfort. Her eyes are closed and she is slightly wincing.
  • Dry throat is a common symptom of many conditions — like allergies and colds — and can even be caused by lifestyle factors such as sleeping with your mouth open or being dehydrated.
  • This condition isn’t life-threatening but can also be caused by potentially serious illnesses like COVID-19.
  • Many of the causes of dry throat can be treated with over-the-counter medication and at-home remedies.
  • It may be difficult to determine on your own the exact cause of your dry throat. If your symptoms persist, it’s a good idea that you speak to your healthcare provider.

It can be difficult to tell exactly what is causing a sore or dry throat as it’s a common symptom of many illnesses and it can also be caused by various lifestyle factors.

Colds and flu are known to cause a dry throat, and millions of Americans get these viral infections each year.

Similarly, allergies and COVID-19 can also cause dry throat.

Allergic rhinitis affects 60 million Americans annually, while the latest statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal over 12,000 daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

Because dry throat is such a common condition, it can be difficult to determine the cause.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at many of the factors that could be contributing to dry throat, as well as how to treat and manage symptoms.

What Causes a Dry Throat?

There are a number of different factors that can cause a dry throat. These can range from illnesses to lifestyle factors, making it difficult to determine the exact cause.

Normal or seasonal allergies

An allergic reaction is caused by your immune system overreacting to normal things in your environment, like dust, pet hair, or pollen.

Allergy symptoms can be seasonal or be present year-round. They are usually mild to severe and can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

Symptoms may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Itchy and watery eyes

  • Postnasal drip that can contribute to a sore throat

  • Sneezing

  • Fatigue

A congested nasal tract caused by allergies may force you to breathe out of your mouth, which can also contribute to dry throat.

Allergy symptoms may last between four to six weeks or for an entire season. They also tend to appear around the same time each year.

Common colds and flu

The common cold and flu are both viruses that affect the respiratory system and cause similar symptoms. These may include:

  • Aches and chills

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Sneezing

  • Congestion

  • Sore throat

Additionally, the flu can also cause a headache and fever. Symptoms for both illnesses usually last between one to two weeks.

Similar to allergies, congestion caused by colds and flu may force you to breathe out of your mouth. This can contribute to a dry throat.

COVID-19

Although dry throat isn’t a common symptom of COVID-19, it can be a side effect of other symptoms like congestion or shortness of breath.

A sore and dry throat that results from COVID-19 feels similar to what you would experience if you have a common cold — painful and scratchy sensations that worsen when you swallow.

If you suspect that COVID-19 is causing your dry throat, ask yourself if you have any of the following symptoms as well:

  • Fever

  • Dry cough

  • Headaches

  • Shortness of breath

  • Loss of taste and/or smell

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Muscle and body aches

  • Congested or runny nose

  • Diarrhea

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How Can I Tell the Difference Between Allergies, COVID-19, Colds, and Flu Symptoms?

It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of your dry throat. The table below details the common symptoms of each illness known to cause dry throat to help you figure it out.

Symptom

Allergies

COVID-19

Common Cold

Flu

Congestion

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Headache

Symptom is rare

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Cough

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Fatigue

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Sneezing

Symptom is common

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Fever

Symptom is rare

Symptom is common

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Loss of taste or smell

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Symptom is rare

Symptom is rare

Nausea or vomiting

Symptom is rare

Symptom may occur

Symptom may occur

Symptom may occur

Dry throat

Symptom may occur

Symptom may occur

Symptom may occur

Symptom may occur

Muscle aches

Symptom is rare

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Sore throat

Symptom may occur

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Symptom is common

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Symptom is rare

Symptom is common

Symptom is rare

Symptom is common

Other medical causes of dry throat

Other nonrespiratory conditions can also contribute to dry throat. Let’s take a closer look at what those are.

Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects the lungs and results in breathing difficulties. It can cause the following physical symptoms:

  • Wheezing

  • Chest tightness

  • Breathlessness or trouble breathing

  • Coughing at night or early in the morning

People with asthma can also experience an asthma attack. This is when the airways suddenly narrow which causes difficulty with breathing normally. An asthma attack requires immediate attention.

There is currently no cure for asthma but there are many treatment options available, including:

  • Taking medication to relieve symptoms

  • Using an inhaler if needed

  • Monitoring your breathing

  • Identifying and avoiding asthma triggers like air pollutants, strong emotions and stress, or certain medications

Tonsillitis

This condition occurs when the tonsils are infected by viruses or bacteria. You may experience the following symptoms if you have tonsillitis:

  • Dry and sore throat

  • Red and swollen tonsils

  • White patches on the tonsils

  • Bad breath

  • Hoarse voice

  • Fever

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Headaches

Tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics and will typically improve within 7 to 10 days. More severe infections may need to be treated with surgery to remove the tonsils.

Strep throat

Strep throat is caused by infectious bacteria. It can cause symptoms like:

  • Dry and sore throat

  • Red and swollen tonsils

  • Fever

  • Rash

  • Body aches

  • White patches on the tongue and tonsils

This condition can be treated by using antibiotic drugs that kill harmful bacteria. Once these organisms have been removed from your body, other symptoms may also start to improve.

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

This condition causes acid or stomach bile to rise up into your esophagus. These acids can burn the lining of the esophagus and cause symptoms like:

  • Hoarse voice

  • Sore and dry throat due to trouble swallowing

  • Dry cough

  • Burning feeling in your chest (also known as heartburn)

If you suspect that you might have gastrointestinal issues, over-the-counter medication like antacids may be able to relieve common symptoms.

Lifestyle factors

A dry throat may also be caused by nonmedical factors. In this section, we’ll take a look at what these can be.

Sleeping with your mouth open

If you experience dry mouth or throat in the mornings, it might be an indication that you are sleeping with your mouth open.

Breathing through your mouth when awake can also contribute to dry throat. These factors cause saliva to dry and prevent the mouth from staying moist.

You may also experience:

  • Bad breath

  • Snoring

  • Daytime fatigue

Mouth breathing can indicate a congested nasal cavity brought on by allergies or common colds. It could also be caused by a deviated septum.

Snoring may be an early indicator of sleep apnea: a serious condition where a person’s airway is repeatedly obstructed throughout the night.

Dehydration

The dryness in your throat may also be a sign that you need to drink something. When you’re dehydrated, your body can’t produce as much saliva as it normally does.

Your mouth needs saliva to keep itself and the throat moist.

If you’re dehydrated, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Dry mouth

  • Feeling thirsty

  • Darker or less urine than usual

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

Overuse of your voice

When you overuse your voice — by yelling or speaking too loudly for extended periods of time — your vocal cords may become irritated and inflamed.

Other mild symptoms may also include:

  • Weak or lost voice

  • Raw, dry, and sore throat

  • Hoarseness

Overusing your voice frequently can also contribute to laryngitis — an acute or chronic inflammation of the vocal cords that may increase the risk of bacterial infection.

Other lifestyle factors

There are a number of other lifestyle factors that can cause a dry throat. These include:

  • Smoking

  • Consuming alcohol in excess

  • Using drugs

  • Taking certain medications

  • Using indoor heaters

These activities can cause moisture in the mouth and throat to be absorbed, preventing enough saliva from being produced.

Key Point: What is the Difference Between Dry Throat and Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth occurs when glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep it moisturized.

This can cause a parched feeling in the mouth and can also contribute to:

  • Dry throat
  • Bad breath
  • Cracked lips

Although dry mouth isn’t a serious condition, it may signal underlying medical conditions like COVID-19.

In fact, studies have shown that up to 60% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients experienced dry mouth as a symptom.

If left untreated, dry mouth may also contribute to other medical issues like tooth decay and mouth ulcers.

What Are the Treatment Options for a Dry Throat?

In most cases, a dry throat can be resolved with minimal treatment. We’ll discuss these in this section.

OTC medication

If your dry throat is caused by medical conditions like allergies, infections, or other illnesses, the best course of action may be OTC medication.

These may include:

  • Antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms

  • Pain and fever medications

  • Antibiotics

  • Anti-inflammatories

  • Antacids to reduce acid reflux and GERD symptoms

Remember to speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medications. They will be able to recommend the best treatment plan for your condition.

Home remedies

Your doctor may also recommend a number of home remedies that can help alleviate your symptoms.

These remedies are usually aimed at restoring the moisture levels in your mouth and throat.

These can be:

  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. You might also benefit from drinking soothing beverages like tea or broth to reduce pain and swelling.

  • Getting enough rest to help your immune system fight any potential infections and speed up your rate of recovery.

  • Steaming by using a hot shower, humidifier, or vaporizer. This can help add moisture to your mouth and throat to relieve symptoms.

  • Sucking on throat lozenges to help the mouth generate saliva and moisten the throat.

  • Gargling with salt water to relieve inflammation, swelling, and pain.

It’s also a good idea to consciously incorporate some of these healthy habits — like making sure you stay hydrated — into your daily routine to prevent dry throat in the future.

When Should I Worry About a Dry Cough and Sore Throat?

Many causes of a dry throat aren’t serious or life-threatening, and symptoms can resolve on their own.

However, since dry throat can be caused by serious medical conditions like COVID-19, GERD, or lung disease, it’s also best to monitor your symptoms.

If you’ve tried any of the treatment options discussed in the previous section without seeing results, it may be time to speak to your doctor.

Do You Struggle With a Dry Throat?

Although dry throat is a common symptom of many illnesses and lifestyle factors, it can also indicate underlying medical conditions like COVID-19 and GERD.

If you’re experiencing or are worried about any of the symptoms we’ve covered in this article, you can meet with a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner from the comfort of your home. Head over to LifeMD to make your first video appointment.

Dr. Jonathan Guirguis

Dr. Guirguis attended Nova Southeastern University for medical school and stayed in South Florida to train in Internal Medicine. Born outside Chicago, he slowly made his way down south, settling in Texas with his wife and three children.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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