Why is My Throat Burning?


Woman holding her throat while cartoon of fire is illuminated on her throat and down her esophagus.
Summary
  • There are many different causes for a burning throat, including bacterial and viral infections.
  • You can use OTC medication, prescription medication, or home remedies to treat your symptoms.
  • In some cases, a sore throat may be a sign of a more serious issue and you should speak to a doctor.
  • Most cases of a burning throat sensation aren't serious and should go away after a couple of weeks.

A painful or burning throat is often caused by an infection like the common cold or a strep throat — a bacterial infection that can make your throat feel tender and scratchy.

Don’t be alarmed if you wake up in the morning and notice pain coming from the back of your throat. You may be wondering why your throat is burning.

A sore throat seldom arises from a serious condition. When a medical disorder results in burning throat pain, you will usually notice other symptoms along with it.

This article will cover the causes of a sore throat, remedies, and how to recognize if your sore throat may be a sign of something more serious, such as cancer.

What Symptoms Usually Come with a Painful or Burning Throat?

When you have a sore throat (which includes a 'scratchiness', a burning sensation in the throat, or pain when swallowing), you may also have the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Swollen glands in the neck

Other symptoms may include:

  • Body pain

  • Fatigue

  • Hoarseness

  • Fever

  • Rash

Key Point: How to Soothe a Burning Throat

When your throat feels raw, sore, or you have a burning feeling, you can:

  • Gargle with a mixture of 1 cup of warm water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  • Suck on throat lozenges.
  • Drink warm liquids, suck on ice, or eat ice cream. Both cold and heat soothe a sore throat.
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air as this will help prevent your throat from drying out.
  • Take an OTC pain reliever such as Tylenol or Advil.
  • Drink lots of extra fluids, especially water.

Acid Reflux or GERD

When the muscle between the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter allows acid to pass upwards into the esophagus and into your throat, you’ll experience heartburn and a burning sensation at the back of your throat.

Acid reflux that is frequent is called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Having a sour taste at the back of your throat

  • Coughing and difficulty swallowing

  • Feeling like food is stuck and will not go down

  • Chest pains

  • Hoarse voice

If your symptoms of GERD persist, see your doctor or speak to a healthcare provider about getting medical treatment.

Key Point: Some Home Remedies for GERD

To put an end to the feelings of extreme discomfort that come with GERD, you may have to consider some lifestyle changes. These include:

  • Stop smoking. Smoking has been linked to various illnesses, and if you are a smoker you are much more likely to develop throat infections. Quitting will help significantly lower the chances of developing GERD.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts pressure on the abdomen, pushing the stomach upwards which causes acid to move into your esophagus.

  • Raise the head of your bed. Lying down can make acid reflux worse. Place wooden blocks under the head of your bed to elevate it. The more you elevate the bed, the greater the chances are that the stomach acid will not seep into the esophagus. Six to eight inches are ideal.

  • Know which foods and drinks to avoid. Certain foods and drinks will trigger acid reflux such as tomatoes, tomato sauce, high fat, fried and greasy foods, citrus fruit juices, soda, caffeine, chocolate, onions, mint, and alcohol.

  • Use a wedge pillow. Using a wedge pillow secures your position as you sleep and prevents sliding down. People have a tendency to slide down from regular pillows; the wedge pillow keeps you elevated all night.

  • Eat food slowly and chew thoroughly. Eating too quickly is a trigger for acid reflux, so be sure to chew slowly.

  • Relaxation techniques. Since the muscles in the stomach play a role in keeping acid down, it may help you to learn relaxation techniques to relax the mind and body.

Postnasal Drip

A postnasal drip is caused by a cold, allergies, a respiratory infection, or cold weather. The constant trickle of fluid irritates the back of your throat and may lead to swollen tonsils.

When mucus that lines your nose builds up and drips down into the back of your throat, it results in a postnasal drip.

To deal with a postnasal drip, you can try one of the following home remedies:

  • Run a humidifier and drink lots of fluids.

  • Use saline irrigation to flush the nasal passages.

Call your doctor if you notice that the mucus smells bad, you have a fever, or you are wheezing. They'll be able to diagnose your symptoms and prescribe a treatment plan.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can make your throat feel sore and scratchy. The bacteria — group A streptococcus — is contagious and spreads through drops when someone with the infection sneezes or coughs, shares food or drinks, or touches an infected surface and the bacteria is transferred to the noses, mouths, or eyes of others.

While it accounts for a small portion of sore throats, it can lead to a more serious condition such as rheumatic fever. Strep throat is most common in children, but it affects people of all ages. If you or your child has signs or symptoms of strep throat, see your doctor for prompt testing and treatment.

While the main symptom is a sore throat, other symptoms include:

  • Swollen glands in the neck

  • Red, swollen tonsils

  • Nausea

  • Fever

  • Aches and pains

Antibiotics or over-the-counter pain relievers can help soothe your painful symptoms and you can try the following home remedies:

  • Resting. Sleep helps your body to ward off infection. If you have strep throat, do not go to work and if your child has it, keep him or her at home until the symptoms have gone away.

  • Drink plenty of water. A helpful remedy for a sore throat is keeping it moist by drinking water or herbal tea. A moist throat makes it easier to swallow and prevents dehydration.

  • Eat soothing foods. Eat foods such as soups, cooked cereal, yogurt, and mashed potato.

  • Gargle with warm salt water. Try to gargle several times a day with a mixture of warm water and salt to help relieve throat pain.

When you have a strep infection, swallowing is painful and you may have a high fever. In such instances, it's best to seek medical advice.

Is a sore throat causing you discomfort?

Don’t wait to feel better. Schedule an online appointment with a doctor or nurse practitioner.

Common Cold

Many people get colds in winter but it is possible to get a cold at any time of the year. Although most people recover within 7-10 days, people with weak immune systems or asthma may develop serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

Millions of people in the U.S. get the common cold, and it is one of the leading reasons why people miss going to school or work. Adults have an average of two to three colds per year, and children have even more.

The common cold is a viral infection of your nose and throat. Many types of viruses can cause a common cold. It is usually harmless and has the following symptoms:

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Body aches

  • Headache

Key Point: Remedies for the Common Cold

Chicken soup: Chicken soup reduces pain and keeps you hydrated. It is easy to eat, and it helps soothe a sore throat.

Ginger: Ginger has many health benefits. A few slices in boiling water may help to soothe a sore throat and ward off nausea.

Honey: Honey contains antibacterial properties and you can drink it in tea with lemon to help ease a sore throat. Honey is also a cough suppressant — giving it to children at bedtime reduces the severity of their coughing and can help them sleep better.

Garlic: Like ginger, garlic has medicinal properties. It helps reduce the symptoms of a cold and some people believe that eating garlic regularly may help you avoid getting sick in the first place.

Other remedies for colds include echinacea, vitamin C, probiotics, and salt water for gargling. Vapor rubs, humidifiers, and warm baths also help to relieve cold symptoms.

Flu or Influenza

The flu is a viral illness and has many similar symptoms to the common cold, including a sore throat.

However, flu can have more serious symptoms and in some instances may lead to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Cough

  • Runny nose

  • Congestion

  • Muscle aches

  • Headaches

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

Most people who get the flu can treat themselves at home without having to see the doctor. If, however, you experience emergency symptoms, get medical care immediately.

Emergency signs include difficulty breathing, chest pains, continuous dizziness, seizures, severe weakness, or muscular pain.

Key Point: Remedies for Flu

Stay home: Rest is important, so stay at home, and get the rest you need. Staying at home will also prevent you from spreading the flu to others.

Hydrate: You may experience a high fever or temperature with the flu which could lead to sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea, so make sure you drink plenty of liquids to replace the lost fluids. Water is best but you can drink herbal tea with honey and ginger.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis, also referred to as ‘mono’ is a very contagious viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus which spreads through body fluids such as saliva. Symptoms include a severely sore throat as well as:

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Fever

  • Body aches

  • Swollen glands in the neck and armpits

  • Rash

  • Sneezing and coughing

  • Hoarseness

  • Runny nose

  • Belly pain

Your healthcare provider will assess your symptoms to make a diagnosis. They will look for signs of an enlarged spleen or liver and check your neck for swollen lymph nodes.

Blood tests will detect antibodies produced to fight the Epstein-Barr virus, and your doctor may also check for a high number of white blood cells that indicates infection.

Key Point: Home Remedies for Mono

While there is no specific treatment for mono, you can help alleviate the symptoms if you:

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of soup, herbal tea, water, and fruit juice to bring the fever down and soothe a sore throat.

  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications. OTC pain relievers will help ease headaches and body pain.

  • Gargle. Prepare a salt and warm water mix and gargle several times a day.

If you have mono symptoms for more than two weeks, it’s recommended that you seek medical care from a doctor.

When to Call the Doctor if Your Throat is Burning

While most people can shrug off a sore throat, or suck a few cough lozenges and carry on with their day-to-day activities, there are some circumstances when you should consider seeking medical advice and care.

It's important to see your doctor if:

  • You have a fever that is higher than 101⁰ F with no other cold symptoms. It could be strep throat, which is a bacterial infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics.

  • You have flu-like symptoms that do not appear to be improving.

  • Your child or teen has flu-like symptoms. This is particularly important if you as the parent are pregnant, obese, or you have asthma, diabetes, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

  • You experience pain or hoarseness for more than two weeks, as this could be a warning sign of throat or oral cancer.

  • Your sore throat lingers for more than a week and you also have itchy eyes, a postnasal drip, and sneezing, as this could indicate allergies.

  • You have more severe symptoms such as drooling, or you cannot swallow or breathe easily. This could be from an inflamed epiglottis or you could have an abscess at the back of your throat.

You should also seek medical care if:

  • You have a sore or burning throat and pain that moves to your ear, which could mean an ear infection.

  • You have blood in your saliva or phlegm.

  • You have difficulty breathing or swallowing.

  • You have swelling in your neck.

A sore throat usually gets better after a few days but if the pain continues for more than a week, worsens, or feels unusually sore, see your doctor.

Where Can I Learn More About a Burning Throat and Other Health Issues?

While most cases of a sore or burning throat are not serious and are often just a symptom of the flu or the common cold, it can sometimes be a sign of something more serious.

If you're experiencing some of the symptoms that we've covered in this article, or if you have any concerns about your health, you can make a telehealth appointment at LifeMD and speak to a board-certified doctor or nurse practitioner from your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

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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