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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.
There are many things that can cause your throat to feel dry and scratchy. Some are more serious than others. For example:
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:
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.
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:
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.
A dry throat may be a sign of a seasonal or other allergy to:
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.
Various common illnesses can also cause your throat to become dry.3 These include:
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:
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.
A dry throat can also be caused by:
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.
There are several home remedies you can try at home to soothe and relieve a dry or scratchy throat:
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 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
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 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.
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).
You may want to see your doctor if your dry throat:
Your doctor can diagnose your dry throat and provide adequate treatment that’s suited to your specific condition.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.