An intense, insistent itch is never ideal in any body part. But it's even worse when it happens in a peculiar place — like the roof of your mouth — where it's rough to find relief.
Indeed, an itch located in your palate poses a unique problem: You can't quite reach it to scratch, and even if you could, rubbing the delicate tissue there would probably just further inflame the area.
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So what can you do to ease the itch?
We spoke to Cecelia Damask, DO, a board-certified otolaryngologist, to get to the root of your scratchy roof issue (including the most common reasons for a prickly palate). Plus, we review ways to relieve the itch without causing more irritation.
1. You Have Allergic Rhinitis
The itch irritating the roof of your mouth may be related to allergic rhinitis. Commonly known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is an inflammatory condition that occurs when someone with an allergy is exposed to an allergen that activates an immune response, Dr. Damask says.
"While allergic rhinitis is [classically] characterized by an itchy, sneezy, blocked-up nose, frequently, there can also be associated itching of the palate as well as the throat, ears and eyes," she says.
Though this allergic disorder is prevalent in the U.S. population (with an estimated 15 percent of Americans experiencing symptoms), allergic triggers will vary from person to person, Dr. Damask says.
For example, some may be allergic to grass or tree pollen and only have symptoms during the spring while others may be irritated by mold that appears in the fall when piles of wet leaves build up.
"Still, others may have year-round symptoms due to triggers like animal dander and dust mites," Dr. Damask adds.
Fix it: It’s best to see an otolaryngologist — i.e., a doctor who specializes in conditions of the ears, nose and throat — who can perform allergy testing, Dr. Damask says. This will help you identify your triggers, so you can avoid the allergens that spark your symptoms.
Your doctor may also discuss other treatment options such as antihistamines, nasal sprays and immunotherapy (aka, allergy shots), she says.
2. You Have Oral Allergy Syndrome
The origin of your itchy palate may be oral allergy syndrome (OAS). Also known as pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS), this condition is "caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables or some tree nuts," Dr. Damask says.
People with PFAS typically have an allergy to birch, ragweed or grass pollens. When they eat a raw fruit or veggie, their immune system recognizes the pollen and similar proteins in these foods, which spurs an allergic reaction, Dr. Damask says.
Some examples of these cross-reacting allergens include:
- Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, plum
- Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, tomato
- Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, zucchini
Unsurprisingly, you're more likely to have these allergic food-related flares during the spring and fall, when the pollen seasons are at their prime.
Symptoms usually surface soon after eating the offending food and are confined to the oral cavity. In addition to a scratchy palate, you may also experience swelling of the lips, mouth and throat with occasional hives in the mouth, Dr. Damask says.
"Rarely is anaphylaxis reported" in cases of oral allergy syndrome, she adds. Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that sends your body into shock, and it requires emergency medical attention.
Fix it: “Consulting an otolaryngologist can help you determine if your itchy mouth may be related to PFAS,” Dr. Damask says. To help diagnose the disorder, your doctor may perform skin prick tests and oral food challenges with raw fruit or vegetables.
Once you know which foods trigger your symptoms, it’s best to avoid them in raw form, Dr. Damask says. But you may still be able to enjoy the same fare if peeled or cooked.
People with PFAS “can typically eat the same fruits or vegetables in cooked form because the proteins get distorted during the heating process, and their immune system no longer recognizes the food,” Dr. Damask says.
3. You Have a Food Allergy
While cross-reactions to pollen-related foods can be the reason for an itchy roof of your mouth, your symptoms may also be directly due to a straightforward food allergy, Dr. Damask says. This means that the food itself — not the pollen — is the problematic trigger.
But whether it's pollen or a specific food, the same type of inflamed immune response results from exposure to the allergen.
Though any food can set off an adverse reaction, the following types are responsible for a majority of food allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI):
- Milk and dairy
- Tree nuts
Along with an itchy palate, additional signs of a food allergy may include, per the U.S. Drug and Food Administration (FDA):
- Flushed skin or rash
- Tingling sensation in the mouth
- Face, tongue or lip swelling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Coughing or wheezing
- Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
- Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
While anaphylaxis is less common in oral allergy syndrome, it can occur in people with food allergies. In fact, an anaphylactic reaction to a food often starts with an itchy mouth or palate, Dr. Damask says.
If you develop hives and difficulty breathing, call 911 and seek emergency medical care immediately as anaphylaxis can be potentially fatal, Dr. Damask says.
Fix it: If your palate feels prickly after picking on a certain food, avoid eating it and see an otolaryngologist who can do food allergy testing. Knowing your food triggers is pivotal for preventing symptoms.
Your doctor may also “prescribe an auto injectable form of epinephrine for you to carry in case of accidental exposure again in the future,” Dr. Damask says.
“There are some new treatments that were recently approved for certain food allergies (like a peanut allergy) that an otolaryngologist can discuss with you as well,” she adds.
4. You Have a Common Cold
Sometimes a run-of-the-mill cold is the culprit for the uncomfortable itch you're feeling in your palate.
Still, it can be difficult to differentiate common cold symptoms — like a runny or stuffy nose and scratchy throat — from other conditions like allergic rhinitis.
"If an itchy palate is accompanied by a fever and body aches, it is most likely not allergic rhinitis and more likely to be due to a viral infection" of the upper respiratory tract, Dr. Damask says.
"Viruses can attack the lining of the palate and release inflammatory mediators that stimulate nerve endings, resulting in itching," she says.
On top of a prickly palate, fever and body aches, other surefire signs of a cold include, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Sore throat
- A mild headache
- Generally feeling unwell
Fix it: While inconvenient, most common colds typically run their course in a week to 10 days. In the meantime, you can relieve your itchy palate and other symptoms with the following strategies, per the Mayo Clinic.
5. You Have a Fungal Infection
"Oral candidiasis (aka oral thrush) occurs when there is an overgrowth of candida albicans in your mouth," Dr. Damask says.
Most often, candida fungus resides in your mouth without causing any complications, according to the Mayo Clinic. But sometimes bad microbes can outbalance good ones, and this can allow candida to accumulate.
Symptoms typically involve characteristically creamy white lesions that have a cottage cheese-like appearance along with a burning sensation or soreness in the tongue and inside of the cheeks, Dr. Damask says. "Sometimes [this soreness] can be so severe that it can affect eating and swallowing," she adds.
While these are usual indicators of a fungal infection, itching on the roof of the mouth may also be present, Dr. Damask says.
Other oral thrush symptoms may surface as well, such as the following, per the Mayo Clinic:
- Slight bleeding if the lesions are rubbed or scraped
- Cracking and redness at the corners of your mouth
- A cottony feeling in your mouth
- Loss of taste
- Redness, irritation and pain under dentures
"Oral candidiasis is more likely to occur in babies and older adults, individuals with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions and people who take certain medications like antibiotics or steroids," Dr. Damask says.
Fix it: See your otolaryngologist who can properly examine you and determine if you have oral thrush. If you do, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication to combat the candidiasis.
6. You’re Taking a Certain Medication
Similar to other allergies, your immune system may perceive a substance in a medication as a foreign invader and secrete certain chemicals to attack it, according to the ACAAI.
And an itchy palate may be a hint that this type of immune response is taking place, Dr. Damask says.
In addition to itching (which can occur in any body part), other symptoms of drug allergies to keep an eye out for include, per the ACAAI:
- Skin rash or hives
- Wheezing or other breathing problems
"An anaphylactic reaction to a medication may start with itching or swelling in the mouth," Dr. Damask says. Again, as this is a potentially deadly condition, it requires immediate medical attention.
Fix it: To determine the exact trigger, see your doctor who can perform drug allergy testing, Dr. Damask says.
Some of the most common medications that develop into drug allergies include, per the ACAAI:
- Penicillin and related antibiotics
- Antibiotics containing sulfonamides (sulfa drugs)
- Aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Chemotherapy drugs
7. You Have a Cold Sore
Cold sores, which appear as small red blisters on the face, mouth and lips, may be linked to your itchy palate.
Also known as fever blisters, cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1), Dr. Damask says. Cold sores are contagious and transmitted by close contact with affected skin or saliva. In other words, the virus spreads through sharing personal items (like lip balm or razors), food or via physical contact like kissing, she says.
These fluid-filled or crusty sores typically cause a tingling sensation, but they can create itchiness too, Dr. Damask says.
Fix it: While there’s no cure for cold sores (or HSV-1), they usually resolve within 10 to 14 days.
If you’re prone to frequent fever blister outbreaks, consult with your doctor, who can prescribe oral medications or antiviral ointments that can shorten their life span, Dr. Damask says.
When to See a Doctor
If the itch in your palate persists for more than several says, or you experience accompanying symptoms, see your healthcare provider promptly who can properly assess, diagnose and treat you appropriately.
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.