A dry throat is a common symptom that often occurs during the cooler months when the humidity of the air tends to be low. It can occur any time, however, depending on the cause. Common culprits include head colds, allergies, sinus congestion, smoking, environmental irritants and other conditions that lead to mouth breathing. A dry throat typically triggers irritation in the area beyond the back of the tongue called the pharynx. Throat pain and mild swallowing difficulty might accompany a dry throat. Home remedies often help reduce dry throat discomfort.
Salt inhibits the growth of some disease-causing germs, although the amount in a saltwater gargle isn't sufficient to kill them. Nonetheless, gargling with saltwater can relieve throat dryness and irritation. To soothe your dry throat, try gargling with warm saltwater up to 3 or 4 times daily for 30 to 60 seconds before spitting the liquid into the sink.
Demulcent Herbal Teas
A demulcent describes a substance that temporarily relieves inflammation and irritation of mucous membranes, such as the throat lining, by forming a protective coating. Teas made with demulcent herbs -- including licorice root, slippery elm and marshmallow root, among others -- can potentially soothe a dry throat. Adding honey, which also has demulcent properties, might further ease your throat discomfort.
When your throat is dry, sipping fluids can ease your discomfort by providing moisture to the area. Increasing your fluid intake can also help prevent or treat dehydration, which might contribute to throat dryness. Some people find hot fluids most soothing while others prefer cold liquids, particularly if your throat is sore. Take frequent sips of whatever fluid provides the most comfort for you. Avoid alcohol, which can make dry throat symptoms worse.
Humidify The Air
Use of a furnace or heater during cool months often causes low indoor humidity. This can lead to drying and irritation of the throat. Using a household humidifier or room vaporizer to add moisture to the air may relieve a dry throat, especially during sleep. Both cool and warm mist vaporizers soothe and moisturize a dry throat. If you don't have a humidifier or vaporizer, taking a shower or breathing vapor from a bowl of warm water might provide temporary relief.
Sucking throat lozenges or hard candies soothes a dry throat by directly moistening the tissues and stimulating the production of the saliva. Choose sugar-free candies or lozenges to avoid exposing your teeth to sugar for prolonged periods. Chewing sugar-free gum might also provide relief as it stimulates saliva production, which then moistens your throat.
Warnings and Precautions
A dry throat is often a minor, temporary symptom that usually doesn't pose a significant health risk. However, throat dryness sometimes indicates a medial problem that could require treatment. See your doctor if your dry throat is accompanied by persistent or worsening throat pain, difficulty swallowing, a lump in your neck, or hoarseness or a voice change lasting more than 2 weeks. Seek immediate medical care if you experience any warning signs or symptoms, including:
-- coughing up blood
-- difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
-- whistling or wheezing when you breathe
-- high fever or chills
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.