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Why Your Throat Tickles — And How To Stop It

Often, a throat tickle is due to a cold, allergies or GERD — but see a doctor if it won’t go away

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A tickle in your throat can be really annoying and uncomfortable. If only you could somehow reach the back of your throat and make. It. Stop.


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But you don’t have to live with that throat tickle indefinitely. Family physician Simon Hodes, MD ChB, explains the most common throat tickle culprits and what you can do about them.

What causes a tickle in your throat?

A throat tickle is often a sign that your upper airway (nose, mouth and throat) is irritated. Many different things can cause irritation, from allergies and chemicals to an illness, like a simple cold. A tickly throat can also be a symptom of acid reflux. In rare cases, persistent throat irritation — lasting more than four weeks — can be a sign of a serious condition like cancer.

“Many things can cause a tickle in your throat, so you need to look at the overall picture to figure it out,” Dr. Hodes advises. “When does the tickly feeling occur and what are your other symptoms? How long has it been going on? Is there a possible trigger? Answering these questions will help you determine the possible causes.”

Sometimes, a throat tickle causes a dry cough, but not always. Possible causes of a tickly, itchy throat include:

Acid reflux and GERD

Acid reflux is when your stomach acid creeps up into your esophagus, the tube that connects your stomach and your throat. “Many people are surprised to learn that acid reflux can cause a tickle in your throat and a cough,” shares Dr. Hodes. “Some people get a cough without any acid feeling — so-called ‘silent reflux.’”

You might have acid reflux or its long-term version, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), if you notice a throat tickle:

  • After eating fatty or acidic foods, which are more likely to trigger reflux.
  • When you bend over or lie down, which can allow acid to creep up more easily.
  • With other symptoms of acid reflux, such as a burning feeling in your chest, nausea or a sour taste in your mouth.


If you have seasonal allergies or have been exposed to a substance you’re allergic to (an allergen), it’s common to experience an itchy or irritated throat. Allergies are a likely culprit if you experience a tickly throat:

  • After dusting, gardening, mowing the lawn or other activities that expose you to allergens.
  • In specific places, such as a home that has pets.
  • Only during certain seasons, like spring or fall.
  • With an itchy or runny nose, but you otherwise feel well.


An asthma attack can start with an itchy throat and coughing and progress to trouble breathing. “If you have asthma, it’s important to know your triggers so you can avoid them,” Dr. Hodes advises. “A mild asthma attack might only cause a tickly throat, but without treatment, it can become serious within minutes.”

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Allergens, such as dust, pet dander, pollen or mold.
  • Cold air.
  • Exercise.
  • Not taking preventive asthma medications and inhalers as prescribed.
  • Infections, including colds and flu.
  • Irritants and chemicals, like cleaning products, fragrances, pollution and tobacco smoke.
  • Stress or strong emotions.


When you haven’t had enough to drink, your throat gets dry. Even mild dehydration can cause an irritated and itchy throat, which can also trigger a dry cough.

Dry, indoor air

Even if you don’t have allergies or asthma, cold or dry air can be irritating to your nose and throat.

“Many people notice an ongoing tickle, often with a dry cough, if the air in their home or workplace is dry,” Dr. Hodes says. “If you only notice a throat tickle when you’re in a heated indoor space or a change in the environment, you could be sensitive to the low air quality.”



It’s normal to have a tickly throat and cough when you’re fighting a viral infection. Colds, COVID-19 and other illnesses can cause postnasal drip (mucus from your nose that drips down the back of your throat). The constant drip irritates your throat and can cause a tickle or sore throat.


Chemicals can irritate your airway and cause an itchy feeling and a cough. Usually, the irritation goes away in an hour or two once you’re away from the offending product.

If you have a throat tickle when you use certain cleaning products or fragrances, avoid these substances. You may need to switch to unscented options and avoid strong chemicals that cause fumes, like bleach and ammonia.

“Avoid smoke from cigarettes, cigars and vapes, which contain hundreds of chemicals,” Dr. Hodes stresses. “And if you’re using paint, wood stain or other construction supplies, try to use a personal respirator, open the windows and keep the area as ventilated as possible.”


Some medications — including ones that have nothing to do with your throat — can cause a throat tickle and cough.

Medications that could cause a throat tickle include:

If you believe a medication is to blame for your ticklish throat, talk with a healthcare provider before you change your medications or stop taking them.

How to get rid of a tickle in your throat

“Home care often clears up a mild throat tickle and cough,” says Dr. Hodes. “But it’s important to know the cause so you can take steps to treat it.”

Common home remedies for a throat tickle include:



For the occasional bout of heartburn, an over-the-counter antacid can provide relief. But if you find yourself taking antacids regularly, you may need a prescription medication or further tests. Long-term acid reflux can damage your esophagus, but managing the condition can prevent or minimize complications.


If you have allergies, taking an antihistamine can reduce or eliminate a throat tickle, runny nose and other allergy symptoms.

Asthma control medications

People with asthma often need two types of medications. One for daily control and one for flare-ups. If you have an asthma control medication, take it exactly as prescribed to prevent an asthma attack.

Dr. Hodes notes that it’s common for people with asthma to have asthma flares when they don’t take medications as prescribed or come off them too quickly.

Cough drops

Sucking on a lozenge can provide a temporary soothing effect if your throat tickle is due to allergies, a virus or an irritant, like cleaning products or fragrances.

Diet changes

If certain foods give you indigestion or heartburn, swap them out for foods that don’t bother you. Acidic foods like citrus fruit, coffee and tomatoes are frequent offenders. You may also consider avoiding spicy foods.

Careful elimination of any suspects for a few weeks at a time is the only sure way to figure this out.

Keep your face warm

If cold air causes a tickle in your throat or a cough, wrap a scarf over your face before you go outside during colder months.

Hot tea with honey

A cup of tea is a relaxing soother when you have a virus like a cold or the flu. Honey helps coat your throat and temporarily stop that tickle.


If you’re noticing static electricity, the air in your home is likely dry. During times of the year when your heater or furnace is running, put some moisture back in the air — and your airways — with a humidifier.

Can a throat tickle be serious?

It’s rare, but important to know. Sometimes, a long-term itchy throat or cough can be a sign of a serious condition like cancer.

“Red flags include symptoms for more than four weeks, unexplained weight loss, difficulty swallowing, change of your voice, coughing up blood or swollen glands in the neck,” Dr Hodes warns.

“Trouble swallowing is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer, but it can also feel like something is in your throat. Lung cancer symptoms can include an ongoing cough without blood, which may be easy to dismiss as just a tickle.”

If your throat feels itchy or you have a cough, your body is trying to tell you something. In most cases, it will go away with home remedies, but see a provider if you experience:

Call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room if you experience:

Usually, a throat tickle isn’t cause for alarm. But see your provider regularly and talk with them about any changes to your health. “Don’t dismiss symptoms like an ongoing tickle in your throat, even if it’s mild,” emphasizes Dr. Hodes. “Your provider can help you determine the cause and recommend the right treatment so you can feel your best.”


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