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Dry Throat: Causes, Home Remedies and Treatments

Aaron Clarius Headshot
Written by
Aaron Clarius
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Erica Anand
11 Sources Cited

Overview

Many people occasionally experience a dry, scratchy throat, especially when first waking up. As an isolated, occasional issue, it may be easy to remedy at home without any further attention.

However, depending on what other symptoms you have, a persistent or recurring dry throat may be a cause for concern.

What Causes a Dry, Scratchy Throat?

There are many things that can cause your throat to feel dry and scratchy. Some are more serious than others. For example:

Dehydration

A dry throat may be a sign of dehydration. If you’re dehydrated, you may have mouth and throat dryness along with other symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Darker urine

Alcohol consumption, fluid loss due to an illness, and long periods of exertion without water are all causes of dehydration.1

If you have mild symptoms of dehydration, drinking more fluids may be enough to bring you relief. But if you’re suffering from severe dehydration, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Mouth Breathing During Sleep

If you frequently wake up with a dry throat, you may have a habit of mouth breathing during sleep. Hours of nocturnal (nighttime) mouth breathing can leave your mouth and throat dry in the morning.

It’s possible that you’ve been mouth breathing in your sleep due to congestion from a cold or other respiratory illness. In this case, your throat should feel better once you recover from the sickness.

Habitual mouth breathing, however, can be linked to more serious complications, such as:

  • Oral infection and inflammation
  • Asthma
  • Sleep apnea2

If you frequently wake up with a dry throat and have other recurring symptoms such as snoring and excessive daytime fatigue, speak with your doctor.

Allergies

A dry throat may be a sign of a seasonal or other allergy to:

  • Pollen or certain plants
  • Pet dander
  • Mold or mildew
  • Dust mites
  • Household chemicals, such as ammonia, bleach, or certain fragrances

Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines and nasal decongestants can help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms.

Keeping your house clean and tidy will prevent mold, dust, and other allergy triggers from accumulating. Be sure to avoid any cleaning products that you know cause allergy symptoms.

Viral or Bacterial Illness

Various common illnesses can also cause your throat to become dry.3 These include:

  • Colds
  • Strep throat
  • Influenza
  • COVID-19
  • Mononucleosis

In many of these illnesses, what starts out as a dry, scratchy throat may become more painful and sore. Look out for other symptoms of viral or bacterial infection, such as:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of or change in taste and smell
  • Swollen lymph nodes or tonsils
  • Ear pain

If you have any combination of the above symptoms, it’s possible that you’ve developed an upper respiratory infection. Contact your doctor for a diagnosis and professional treatment.

Other Causes

A dry throat can also be caused by:

  • Dry air — deprives your throat of the optimal amount of moisture.4
  • Sudden, frequent, or extreme changes in air temperature — irritates your throat and causes breathing problems.4
  • Alcohol consumption — can cause dehydration and poor breathing during sleep.
  • Prolonged shouting or raising your voice — inflames your throat and vocal cords.5
  • Acid reflux — this involves acid from your stomach going back up into your throat, making it feel dry and sore.

Other Symptoms of Dry Throat

A dry throat from any number of causes may be accompanied by a “tickle” or scratchy feeling in the throat, as well as a slight cough. You might find that talking worsens the scratchiness.

While increased thirst can be a sign of dehydration, it could also simply be a result of your throat feeling irritated.

Home Remedies for Dry Throat

There are several home remedies you can try at home to soothe and relieve a dry or scratchy throat:

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water each day moisturizes the throat. You may also want to limit caffeine and alcohol intake, as these contribute to dehydration.

Warm Drinks

Warm herbal teas can soothe a dry or sore throat. The temperature and herbal content, such as chamomile, can feel particularly comforting against a scratchy throat.

In one study, warm water infusions with licorice, barberry, thyme, and oregano were found to help reduce throat bacteria in people with strep throat.6

Honey

Many people add honey to hot water or tea for added flavor. Honey is known to have antimicrobial properties. It has also been found to work as a cough suppressant.7

Cold Treats

Cold foods, such as ice cream and popsicles, can have a numbing effect while also providing some hydration. These treats can be high in sugar, so use discretion and eat in moderation.

Other Remedies

Alcohol, though it can dehydrate you, has an analgesic effect.8 A moderate amount of alcohol in a hot drink, such as the famous “hot toddy,” may help provide some comfort to your throat.9

Note: This does not mean that you should rely on alcohol as a sole remedy for a dry throat. Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and can contribute to a dry throat, among many other complications.

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough drops or lozenges can also relieve a dry or irritated throat. They may contain eucalyptus oil, pectin, or other soothing ingredients (demulcents).10 Zinc lozenges can also help sooth the oral mucosa (lining of the mouth and throat).

When to See a Doctor

You may want to see your doctor if your dry throat:

  • Persists for more than a few days
  • Develops into a severe sore throat
  • Leads to symptoms of severe illness, such as fever, swelling, or shortness of breath
  • Results in sleep apnea symptoms, such as heavy snoring and daytime fatigue

Your doctor can diagnose your dry throat and provide adequate treatment that’s suited to your specific condition.

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose the cause of your dry throat, your doctor will likely examine your throat. They’ll also ask you if you are experiencing any other symptoms.

Depending on the cause, your doctor may also perform tests, such as a throat swab, to determine if you have an infection

Treatment

Professional treatment for your dry throat will depend on the cause. If you’re fighting a viral or bacterial infection, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to help your body fend it off.

If your dry throat is a result of sleep apnea, your doctor will discuss sleep-specific treatments with you, such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

They may also advise you to avoid things that are likely to exacerbate your symptoms, such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and household allergens.

Potential Complications

Depending on the underlying cause, leaving a chronic dry throat untreated may lead to other complications.

Chronic dehydration, for example, can lead to kidney problems, low blood volume, seizures, and other potentially life-threatening complications.1

Sleep apnea, when left untreated, interferes with sleep and can be life-threatening.11

Pay attention to any other symptoms you experience with a dry throat. This will help you and your doctor determine what’s causing it and how serious it may be.

Note that dry mouth, caused by inadequate saliva production is a distinct issue that may call for other kinds of treatment.

Summary

An occasional dry throat, especially upon waking in the morning, is common and may be nothing to worry about.

Depending on what other symptoms accompany a dry throat, however, it may be a sign of something more serious, especially if it is chronic or recurring.

A dry, scratchy throat may be a sign of:

  • Dehydration
  • Nocturnal mouth breathing
  • Allergies
  • Respiratory illness
  • Cold or dry air
  • Acid reflux

Many of these causes can be resolved at home or with proper medication. In the meantime, herbal teas, honey, and throat lozenges can provide relief.

In some cases, professional treatment may be necessary to address the underlying issue.

If your dry throat persists for more than a few days, or is accompanied by symptoms of severe illness or sleep apnea, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Last updated on April 8, 2022
11 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 8, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Mouth Breathing - an overview.” ScienceDirect.
  3. Addey, Dilys, and Adrian Shephard. “Incidence, causes, severity and treatment of throat discomfort: a four-region online questionnaire survey.BMC ear, nose, and throat disorders vol. 12,9 . doi:10.1186/1472-6815-12-9
  4. D’Amato, M et al. “The impact of cold on the respiratory tract and its consequences to respiratory health.Clin Transl Allergy vol. 8,20 . doi:10.1186/s13601-018-0208-9
  5. Laryngitis.” Mayo Clinic.
  6. Wijesundara, Niluni M, and H P Vasantha Rupasinghe. “Herbal Tea for the Management of Pharyngitis: Inhibition of Streptococcus pyogenes Growth and Biofilm Formation by Herbal Infusions.Biomedicines vol. 7,3 63. 24 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/biomedicines7030063
  7. Paul, Ian M et al. “Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. vol. 161,12 :1140–1146. doi:10.1001/archpedi.161.12.1140
  8. Thompson, Trevor et al. “Analgesic Effects of Alcohol: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Experimental Studies in Healthy Participants.” The journal of pain vol. 18,5 : 499-510. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2016.11.009
  9. Eschner, Kat. “The Hot Toddy: A “Medicinal” Drink That Might Actually Work.Smithsonian Magazine, January 11, 2017.
  10. Demulcents - an overview.” ScienceDirect.
  11. The Dangers of Uncontrolled Sleep Apnea.” Johns Hopkins Medicine.
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