If you wake up with a sore throat, you might wonder: Was it because you left the window open or a fan running? Experts say there are a variety of reasons this happens ― but they’re thankfully often easily addressed with simple remedies.
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While people may believe leaving a window open caused their sore throat, it really depends more on the air quality, says otolaryngologist Michael Benninger, MD. “Cool air from an open window can help people breathe better, unless the air is very dry,” Dr. Benninger says.
Fans also can dry the air, but the soothing white noise may lead to better sleep. “I suggest facing the fan away from you. It will still circulate the air while producing background noise,” he says.
Other reasons for waking up with a sore throat
“The most common reasons for a sore throat in the morning are a dry environment, especially in winter, along with mouth breathing and acid reflux,” Dr. Benninger says. He says that dehydration, hay fever, or the beginning of a cold can also be culprits. People who snore or have sleep apnea may also wake with a sore throat.
If you consider your sleeping environment and symptoms, you often can find ways to rid yourself of that sandpaper-in-your-throat feeling.
Here are some common questions to ask yourself:
- Is the air dry? If you suspect the air is dry, which tends to be a problem in the winter, use a humidifier. Drinking extra water in general, but especially before bed, can also help.
- Could you be mouth breathing? Breathing from your nose helps keep moisture in your mouth and throat. Sometimes if your nasal passages aren’t clear, you end up breathing out of your mouth. For short-term relief (for a cold), you could try oxymetazoline (Afrin®) at bedtime for a few days. For longer-term relief, you can use a steroid nasal spray (fluticasone), or you can use Breathe Right® nasal strips.
- Do you have acid reflux? People reflux more when they are in a lying position, Dr. Benninger says. “There are pillows that may help, but a healthy diet (low in acid) and weight control are the keys,” he says. If acid reflux is an issue for you, he suggests taking an H2 antihistamine like Zantac® or Pepsid® before bedtime. Also, he suggests not eating right before bed and avoiding alcohol, which can cause increased snoring.
What about allergies?
Do you have allergies? If so, treating indoor and/or outdoor allergies can also help reduce a sore throat.
Other allergy tips include the following:
- Change air filters regularly.
- Keep pets out of your bedroom.
- Remove carpets and drapes, if possible.
- Line mattress and pillows if you are allergic to dust mites.
- Shower in the morning (the steam can soothe your throat).
It’s hard to fathom, but dust mites and debris can add five to 10 pounds to a mattress over a few years.
For some people, this advice might be even harder to fathom: “Disobey your mother’s rules and don’t make the bed,” Dr. Benninger says. “Dust mites like dark, warm environments so keep your sheets pulled until right before you sleep.
When is it time to see a doctor?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, it’s time to see a doctor:
- Do you have a sore throat not associated with a virus that lasts all day?
- Is your sore throat not improving after a couple of weeks?
It’s especially important to get your throat examined by a professional if you have the above symptoms and you also smoke, have acid reflux and/or drink a lot of alcohol.
“Any associated change of voice or difficulty swallowing is more worrisome,” Dr. Benninger says.
Primary care doctors can help but if the soreness persists, it may be time to see a specialist (ENT). It could be a sign of a more serious condition. “HPV (human papilloma virus) is becoming an epidemic for oral-pharyngeal cancers. A person with multiple partners or with papilloma elsewhere should be particularly cautious,” Dr. Benninger says.
Fortunately, a sore throat in the morning that goes away after some food or drink rarely is a sign of something serious.