A dry throat isn't exactly a medical emergency. But that parched, chalky feeling can sure be uncomfortable. And when it's happening often, it can get annoying fast.
Dry throats can feel distinct from sore throats, since it's possible to have dryness without symptoms like coughing or scratchiness. But the two symptoms can also overlap. "Dry throat and sore throat often go together in many disease processes," says Peter Ashman, MD, an otolaryngologist with ENT and Allergy Associations in New York.
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That being said, a dry throat doesn't always mean that you're sick. In fact, the top cause of a dry throat often has nothing to do with infection or illness. Here's a look at the factors often at play and what you can do to find relief.
Falling short on fluid intake is the most common culprit of a dry mouth or dry throat, Dr. Ashman says. Being dehydrated can reduce the amount of saliva produced in the mouth, which can make your throat or mouth feel dry. You might also feel very thirsty, have darker-colored urine or feel sluggish.
Fix it: Having more water will rehydrate your throat tissues and give your body the fluid it needs to make more saliva, so drink up.
Not sure how much water to drink each day? Men should aim for about 15 cups of water per day and women should aim for 11, per the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — but keep in mind you can get some of those fluids from water-rich foods.
You Have Nasal Congestion
A blocked up nose can give you a dry, sore throat, even if you aren't coughing. "Breathing through your nose humidifies the air that enters your nose and lungs," Dr. Ashman explains. "If your nose is stuffy, you may breathe through your mouth which can dry your throat."
Congestion can be caused by a cold or another infection (like the flu, a sinus infection or COVID-19), or from problems related to your nasal passages like a deviated septum. The right treatment depends on your individual diagnosis (and in the case of a viral infection, you may just need to wait it out).
Fix it: Treating the underlying cause of congestion can take time. In the meantime, using a saline nasal spray can help unclog your nasal and make it easier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth, Dr. Ashman says. Rinsing with a neti pot can be helpful too.
You've Been Sleeping With Your Mouth Open
If stuffiness forces you to breathe through your nose while you're sleeping, you might wake up with a dry throat at night or in the morning, Dr. Ashman says. Undermanaged sleep disorders like sleep apnea can also cause mouth breathing while you sleep, along with symptoms like loud snoring, feeling tired when you wake up or waking up with a headache, per the Mayo Clinic.
Fix it: Running a humidifier in your bedroom can add moisture to the air and help keep your throat passages from getting overly dry, Dr. Ashman recommends. And if you suspect sleep apnea is the culprit, see your doctor for a sleep evaluation.
You Have Allergies
Environmental allergies to things like pollen, dust, mold or ragweed are notorious for causing nasal congestion. That, too, can force you to breathe through your mouth and make your throat dry, Dr. Ashman says.
Fix it: If you feel like your allergies aren't well-controlled, talk with your doctor. Together you can come up with an allergy management plan that reduces your congestion (perhaps with some help from OTC allergy medications) and helps keep your other symptoms in check.
You Have Acid Reflux
Chronic acid reflux or GERD can irritate your throat, which can lead to dryness.
"The throat being exposed to acid can result in significant inflammation of the throat lining. This inflammation can dry out your throat and can also result in burning pain," says Dr. Ashman.
Fix it: Treatments for GERD vary, and may include lifestyle adjustments and medications. You might notice your reflux worsens at night or after eating spicy or fatty foods or heavy meals. If that's the case, elevate your head while you sleep and try to avoid the foods that trigger your symptoms, recommends the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). That can limit reflux and stop your throat from getting irritated.
You Started a New Medication
Many drugs can decrease saliva production, which can leave you with a dry, chalky mouth and throat. According to the University of Southern California Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, some of the most common culprits include:
- Migraine medications
- High blood pressure medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Opioid pain relievers
- Proton pump inhibitors
Fix it: If you suspect a prescription or over-the-counter med is making your mouth or throat dry, let your doctor know. It may be possible to adjust your dose or switch to another drug with fewer side effects.
You Have Tonsillitis
The tonsils are the lymph nodes in the back of your throat and mouth — and when they get infected (from a virus or bacteria) they can cause your throat to become sore, scratchy or inflamed, according to the Mayo Clinic. You might also notice that your tonsils look red or swollen — or, you may have a fever, trouble swallowing, bad breath, a headache or neck pain.
Fix it: Contact your doctor if you suspect that you have tonsillitis. If they determine the infection is bacterial, they may prescribe antibiotics. (If it's viral, you'll have to wait for your symptoms to ease up on their own, which could take 7 to 10 days.)
How to Get Rid of a Dry Throat
When a dry throat strikes and you need immediate relief, there are a few remedies that can help:
- Drinking water: Sometimes this is enough to hydrate your throat tissues, says Dr. Ashman says.
- Saltwater rinse: If your throat is dry and irritated, try gargling with a saltwater rinse, which can reduce inflammation. "Try mixing 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to 8 ounces of water," he recommends. Sucking on a lozenge or hard candy can also be helpful.
- Adding humidity to the air: Using a humidifier to add more moisture to your indoor air can be helpful too, especially if your throat tends to get dry at night. These picks are among the best of the bunch. If you'd rather avoid buying a new appliance, these DIY humidifying hacks can help.
Keep in mind, though, that stopping throat dryness starts with figuring out the root cause, Dr. Ashman says. If you're often end up dehydrated, drinking more water should do the trick, for instance. If it seems like your dry throat is related to congestion from cold, take steps to reduce your exposure to germs. Think a condition like allergies, acid reflux or sleep apnea might be to blame? See your doctor to discuss how you can manage the problem.
When to See a Doctor
A dry throat without any other symptoms is most likely from dehydration and isn't cause from concern. But you should contact your provider if you're experiencing a dry throat along with sore throat, fever, trouble swallowing, blood in your saliva, snoring or shortness of breath, Dr. Ashman recommends. These could be signs of an infection or illness that require treatment.
- Mayo Clinic: "Sleep Apnea"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for GER & GERD"
- University of Southern California Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry: "Dry Mouth: Medications and their Effect on Saliva"
- Mayo Clinic: "Tonsillitis"
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: "Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate"
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.