7 Reasons Your Throat Is Burning (Plus When To Call a Doctor)
Maybe the burn in your throat came on gradually, or maybe it appeared out of nowhere.
Regardless of how it began, feeling like your throat is on fire is no fun for anyone.
But what could cause a burning sensation in your nose or throat? And once you have this unpleasant symptom, what should you do to treat it?
Let’s unpack some of the main causes of a burning throat and see what you should do in each case.
Why Does My Throat Burn? 7 Possible Causes
Cause #1: Postnasal Drainage
Postnasal drainage happens when the body produces more mucus than usual. Rhinitis, which is inflammation in the nose that causes increased mucus production, commonly causes postnasal drainage.
Postnasal drainage occurs because the excess mucus in your nose has to go somewhere. It either comes out the front in a classic runny nose, or it can drip down your throat. This drainage irritates your throat and causes a burning sensation.
To ease the burning, you need to treat the rhinitis that’s causing the drainage. Since allergies often cause rhinitis, an over-the-counter antihistamine like Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra could help. Topical nasal sprays like Flonase, Nasacort and Rhinocort are also good options.
Cause #2: Laryngopharyngeal Reflux
Another common cause of burning pain in your throat is laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).
When most of us think of reflux, we think of gastroesophageal reflux, like indigestion or heartburn. In these cases, the burning pain is more in the chest.
LPR occurs when acid reflux comes all the way up into the throat, where it can cause irritation to the voice box and the back of the throat.
In addition to throat burning, LPR can cause a dry throat, a feeling of needing to clear the throat, or a feeling like something is lodged in the throat. Patients frequently complain about a lump in their throat that won’t go away.
Dietary modifications are the first change to explore for relief from reflux. Spicy and greasy foods, tomato products, and caffeine are some of the worst offenders. Eliminating these foods is a great place to start!
It’s a good idea to avoid eating for two hours before bed. You can also try elevating the head of your bed, since lying in a reclined position tends to make reflux worse.
If these measures don’t improve your reflux, you can also try medications like Nexium, Prilosec or other over-the-counter treatments.
Cause #3: Pharyngitis
Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the throat tissues. Pharyngitis can be caused by an allergic reaction to something you ate or an environmental allergen like pollen. Throat inflammation can also come from a viral or bacterial infection like strep throat.
Treatment for this burning depends on the cause. For allergies, taking antihistamines and avoiding the allergen can help. A viral infection requires general self-care: chicken soup, plenty of fluids and lots of rest.
For a bacterial infection like strep throat, see a physician to get a prescription for antibiotics.
Cause #4: Thrush
Thrush, a fungal infection in the mouth or throat, can cause a painful burning sensation. Though thrush is more common in babies, adults using antibiotics or steroid sprays are also vulnerable.
People who use steroid inhalers have a higher risk of developing oral thrush. Rinsing your mouth with water after using your inhaler can help prevent a thrush-friendly environment from developing.
Additionally, if you’re prescribed an antibiotic, talk to your doctor about adding a probiotic to help restore some of your body’s healthy bacteria to prevent the growth of thrush.
Cause #5: Vitamin Deficiencies
Although rare, lower than average levels of certain vitamins can cause a burning sensation as well, though usually in the mouth. One study found a correlation between abnormally low levels of iron and vitamin B12 and a burning mouth.
This one will take a bit more investigation. If you think your mouth burning might be due to vitamin deficiencies, talk to your doctor about getting blood work done. If your lab work reveals any vitamin deficiencies, your care provider can counsel you on necessary dietary changes and supplements to add to your daily routine.
Cause #6: Burning Mouth Syndrome
Burning mouth syndrome is just that: a condition where patients have an inexplicable sensation of burning in their mouth. There’s no injury, no infection, no obvious cause present, but the mouth still burns.
While relatively rare, burning mouth syndrome mostly affects women over the age of 40. Other symptoms include burning of the tongue, lips and roof of the mouth.
Burning mouth syndrome may be a form of neuralgia — nerve pain with no discernable cause. In other words, the nerves send pain signals to the brain even though nothing is hurting them.
If you haven’t been able to find the cause of your burning mouth, talk to your ENT doctor or dentist. They can help you investigate the source and identify whether it could be burning mouth syndrome.
Cause #7: Eosinophilic Esophagitis
Eosinophilic esophagitis is a chronic inflammation of the esophagus caused by an allergic reaction or immune response. A large number of white blood cells called eosinophils infiltrate the esophageal lining. This can cause swelling and burning in the esophagus and up into the throat.
A gastrointestinal specialist performs the tests necessary to diagnose this condition and can recommend the best course of treatment for your case.
How Can I Prevent My Throat From Burning?
Preventing throat burning depends on addressing the root causes of the symptoms. Good oral hygiene is key in preventing some of these conditions. Make a habit of brushing your teeth, scraping your tongue, and using mouthwash twice a day.
If you get sick, take care of yourself and treat the source of your illness. And if you have allergies, talk with your doctor about the best ways to manage them to prevent a burning throat.
Throat Burning? Reach Out for Help!
If you’re dealing with a burning throat, you don’t have to suffer. Our physicians at ENT Associates of Lubbock know how to address mouth, nose, and throat burning, and can help you find the best course of treatment for your pain.
Reach out to schedule an appointment to discuss your treatment options today.
Dr. Cuthbertson is a physician at Ear Nose & Throat Associates of Lubbock. He joined the team at ENT Lubbock from Houston, where he was chief resident of the prestigious Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology at Baylor College of Medicine. He is board certified in Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery and has quickly built a reputation, not only as an extremely skilled surgeon, but as an approachable and compassionate clinician adept in the newest standards and technologies. Learn more about Dr. Cuthbertson.