Waking up with a sore throat can be a sign you've got a cold coming on. But that's not always the case. There are plenty of possible sore or dry throat causes that have nothing to do with being sick.
Often the culprit is post-nasal drip — thick, sticky mucus from the sinuses that drips down the back of the throat. It can be triggered by a number of different conditions, and may have inflammatory components including white blood cells or bacteria that can irritate the throat, says Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Video of the Day
There are other possible offenders, too. Here, learn the most common sore throat causes and how to soothe the scratchiness. Plus, learn when throat discomfort warrants a call to the doctor.
1. You've Got Allergies
Though itching and sneezing might be the first symptoms you think of, seasonal allergies can also leave you with a sore, scratchy throat. Pollen, dust, mold or dander can start up inflammation in the airways, causing throat discomfort, Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
You may especially feel that morning sore throat if you've left your window open while sleeping, which may cause pollen to waft through your room.
Pinpointing your allergy triggers and taking steps to reduce your exposure is a must for managing your symptoms, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Over-the-counter or prescription medications like antihistamines and some natural remedies can also provide relief.
2. It's an Environmental Irritant
Irritants and sore throats often go hand-in-hand. That means, you don't have to have allergies for the stuff floating in the air to give you a sore throat. Things like fumes or dust can also cause discomfort.
"They can incite an immunologic reaction in the nose and throat, which typically results in inflammation and increased mucus production," Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
Again, steering clear of the offending substances is your best strategy. Using an air filter can help keep outdoor gunk in the air from making its way into your home, and you can try other methods to improve indoor air quality.
3. It's Cold, Dry Air
Very chilly or parched conditions can cause the body to ramp up mucus production in an attempt to keep your airways moist, Dr. Mehdizadeh says. And when that extra mucus starts to make its way down your throat, things can start to get uncomfortable. (It can make you stuffy and congested, too.)
Like pollen coming through an open window at night, cool, nighttime air could also be causing your throat pain in the morning.
4. You Have Acid Reflux
Your sleep-related sore throat could actually be from acid reflux, which tends to get worse when you lie down.
Reflux irritates your throat and can cause soreness, hoarseness or a dry cough, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And because it tends to get worse during the night, you might notice you're waking up with a sore throat more often.
Managing your acid reflux will help ease your throat pain. Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn and try not to eat within three hours before going to bed. Take over-the-counter acid reducers to help reduce the burning (which can even cause you to get throat pain or throw up).
When you do turn in for the night, elevate your head with an extra pillow, per the Mayo Clinic. And finally, ask your doctor about taking a heartburn medication if lifestyle changes aren't enough.
5. It's a Vocal Cord Injury
Gave a big speech or spent hours singing along at a concert? Using your voice for too long or too loudly can strain your vocal cords and temporarily cause them to become swollen and irritated, Dr. Mehdizadeh says. As a result, you might sound hoarse (or lose your voice completely) and have some throat pain.
So if you woke up with a sore throat but feel fine otherwise, you might've just strained your vocal cords the night before.
Give your vocal cords some TLC to help them heal.
"Voice rest, hydration, humidification, neck massage and avoiding throat clearing are the most effective ways to ease the discomfort and expedite the return of your voice," Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
6. You Have a Deviated Septum
Sometimes a deviated septum — when the cartilage that separates the nostrils is pushed to one side — goes completely unnoticed. But other times it can cause congestion and increased mucus production, which could potentially irritate your throat, Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
Tell your doctor if you think you have a deviated septum. If the condition is causing recurrent sinus and mucus problems, your doctor can refer you to an otolaryngologist to discuss possible treatment options.
7. You Have Sleep Apnea (or You Snore)
When you have sleep apnea or you snore, you often end up sleeping with your mouth open on and off throughout the night. This mouth breathing (and the vibrations of snoring on your vocal cords) can cause a dry, sore throat in the morning, per the Mayo Clinic.
Besides a sore throat, other symptoms of sleep apnea include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Episodes where you stop breathing
- Waking up gasping or choking in the middle of the night
- Morning headaches
- Trouble concentrating during the day
- Mood changes
- High blood pressure
If you, your bed partner or someone in your household suspects you have sleep apnea or that you snore, bring it up at your next doctor's appointment. They may schedule you for a sleep study, and offer treatment options for your sleep apnea, including a night guard, a CPAP machine or certain medical procedures to open your airways, per the Mayo Clinic.
8. You Have a Serious Illness
In rare cases, a persistent sore throat could be the sign of serious health problems such as throat cancer or HIV. Usually these problems are accompanied by other symptoms like trouble swallowing, a painful neck or lump in the neck, bloody mucus or flu-like symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
See your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Treatment will depend on your diagnosis. You may need to make some lifestyle changes in the meantime, like eating soothing foods or reducing exercise with a sore throat.
How to Soothe a Sore Throat
If it's not caused by an infection, a dry throat in the morning can usually be managed with at-home remedies.
Here are some of the best ways to get rid of a morning sore throat:
- Drink something warm. Warm liquids like tea with honey, broth or hot soup can hydrate your throat and soothe the irritation.
- Try a cold treat. Ice pops or ice cream can have a numbing effect and take down some of the inflammation, per the American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Gargle with saltwater. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt into 4 to 8 ounces of warm water, per the Mayo Clinic. Gargle for a few seconds, then spit.
- Suck on a lozenge or hard candy. If your throat hurts when you swallow, a lozenge could help coat and soothe your throat. Try cough drops that have the active ingredient cepacol, Dr. Mehdizadeh says.
- Add some steam. If you don't have a humidifier, try running a hot shower with the door shut for a few minutes, per the Mayo Clinic.
- Avoid irritating foods or drinks. Try to avoid spicy and acidic foods and alcohol when you have a sore throat.
How to Prevent Morning Throat Pain
Your nighttime routine can help you avoid a sore throat in the morning. Here are some tips to try:
- Wait a few hours after eating to go to sleep. If you get acid reflux, you may want to wait a while after eating dinner or your nighttime snack before lying down, as it could make your reflux worse per Harvard Health Publishing.
- Elevate your head or sleep on your side. Adjusting your sleeping position may help you avoid a morning sore throat caused by acid reflux pain, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- Open your airways. If you get a stuffy nose when you lie down, you're more likely to breathe through your mouth. Consider products that help open your airways like Breathe Right strips ($14.93, Amazon) or Flonase nasal spray ($12.81, Amazon) to reduce mouth breathing and prevent a dry throat.
- Drink plenty of water. Taking a few sips of H2O before going to bed could help keep your throat hydrated (and it shouldn't be so much that you have to wake up to pee). Overall, make sure you're getting anywhere from 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water per day, through drinking or water-rich foods, per the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
- Use a humidifier or air purifier. Depending on the current state of your bedroom, choosing to moisten or purify the air could help you sleep soundly and prevent a sore throat upon waking.
- Keep your windows closed. If you think cold, outdoor air is the culprit, keep your windows shut when you sleep.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can cause a sore throat at any time of the day. Quitting could help prevent a sore throat on future mornings, per Loma Linda University Health.
When to See a Doctor for a Sore Throat
A mild sore throat without other symptoms isn't usually cause for concern, and at-home remedies should help you feel better within a few days.
But if your throat discomfort lasts for more than five days, call your doctor, Dr. Mehdizadeh recommends. This means you may have a lingering infection or virus that needs treating.
If your sore throat is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, that also warrants an appointment, per the Mayo Clinic:
- A rash
- Joint pain
- A fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Bloody mucus
- Facial swelling
- A lump in the neck or throat
- Trouble breathing
When should you stay home with a sore throat?
If you have a sore throat with other symptoms like a fever, chills, muscle aches and nausea or vomiting, you're likely contagious. If that's the case, see your doctor and then stay home to avoid getting others sick.
Once your symptoms go away (or you've taken antibiotics for 12 hours for a bacterial infection, for example), you should be OK to leave the house, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How long does a sore throat from sleeping with your mouth open last?
Most sore throat symptoms go away within a few days, per the Cleveland Clinic. But if you've slept with your mouth open the night before, something as simple as drinking water, a hot cup of tea or coffee or even eating breakfast in the morning could relieve your dry, sore throat.
Can sleeping with a fan on cause a sore throat?
Sleeping with a fan on can cause a variety of effects, including congestion, dry skin and, you guessed it, a sore throat. This is mostly due to the dry air fans give off during the night, along with the spread of dust or allergens throughout the room.
You can try facing the fan away from you if you still need that air flow, though, per the Cleveland Clinic.
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Seasonal Allergies"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Environmental Management for Allergies"
- Cleveland Clinic: "GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How You Can Tell If You Need a Humidifier"
- Mayo Clinic: "Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Deviated Septum"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sore Throat"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Sore Throat"
- Mayo Clinic: "Obstructive Sleep Apnea"
- CDC: "Sore Throat"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "11 Stomach-Soothing Steps for Heartburn"
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: "Report Sets Dietary Intake Levels for Water, Salt, and Potassium To Maintain Health and Reduce Chronic Disease Risk"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Will a Wedge Pillow Help My Acid Reflux?"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Choosing the Best Sleep Position"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Sore Throat"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Can You Get a Sore Throat From Sleeping With Your Window Open?"
- Loma Linda University Health: "Pharyngitis and Tonsillitis"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.