5 Reasons Why Your Throat May Be Burning

Get relief from this unpleasant sensation

Man touching his neck
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There are several health conditions that may be causing your burning throat. The good news is that it's fairly straightforward for a doctor to tease out the cause, based on your other symptoms and a physical examination.

Let's explore the most common reasons for a burning throat, and how your doctor will likely treat it, so you get relief.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

When stomach acid is refluxed into the esophagus, at times it may reach the throat.

When this happens, the throat is irritated and a burning feeling may occur.

This burning discomfort caused by GERD can occur high up or lower down in the throat, and the pain may feel worse with swallowing. In addition to the burning feeling, people with GERD sometimes note a sour, salty, or acidic taste in their mouth.

You may wonder how exactly a person's stomach contents can reflux or move back into the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach).

The esophagus and stomach are connected by a band of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES works like a valve, opening to allow food to pass into the stomach and closing to keep food and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus. But if the sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't, or becomes weak, stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.

It's important to note that in addition to throat symptoms, a person with GERD may experience a number of other symptoms like:

  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent cough
  • Bad breath

Treatment of GERD entails lifestyle modifications like quitting smoking, limiting or cutting out alcohol and GERD-triggering foods (for example, chocolate, spicy foods, and citrus fruits), and losing weight if overweight or obese.

Sometimes medication, like a  proton pump inhibitor, is needed in addition to lifestyle changes.

Esophagitis 

Another condition that may cause burning in your throat is esophagitis which is inflammation of the esophagus.

Not unsurprisingly, a common cause of esophagitis is GERD. When stomach acid is refluxed into the throat, it can cause irritation and inflammation, which usually leads to a burning sensation in the throat, in addition to difficulty swallowing and/or pain with swallowing. 

Besides GERD, other potential causes of esophagitis include infections, radiation therapy to the neck area, ingestion of certain medications (called pill-induced esophagitis), chemical ingestion (for example, drain cleaners), or the result of a food allergy (called eosinophilic esophagitis). 

Treatment of esophagitis depends on the underlying cause. For example, if a fungal infection is at play, then an antifungal medication is needed. If GERD is the cause, then lifestyle changes and a proton pump are generally recommended. 

Burning Mouth Syndrome

This syndrome leads to a burning feeling in the tongue, lips, or all over the mouth and throat, without any apparent health-related cause. A person with burning mouth syndrome may also experience a dry mouth and/or a salty or metallic taste in their mouth.

Overall, burning mouth syndrome is a somewhat complex disease and a diagnosis of exclusion, so to speak. This means that other causes of a burning and/or dry mouth must be ruled out first, often requiring a thorough physical examination and blood tests. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to support any such treatment, although doctors have tried cognitive-behavioral therapy and antidepressants, like Cymbalta (duloxetine). 

Infection

Everyone has experienced a sore throat at some point in their lives, with the most common cause being viral pharyngitis. In addition to a burning, itchy, or raw throat, especially when swallowing, a person with a viral infection of the throat may also experience a cough, runny nose, and/or diarrhea.

Treatment for a viral-related sore throat is simple and entails soothing your symptoms until the infection runs its course. While rest and fluids are important, an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen may reduce your swollen glands.

Less commonly, the cause of an infection is bacterial, and this is called "strep throat which requires a trip to your doctor for an antibiotic. Other signs and symptoms of strep throat often include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen and tender lymph nodes in the neck
  • White patches on the tonsils

Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip, also referred to as upper airway cough syndrome, occurs when mucous and fluid from the sinuses and nose drain into a person's throat. It 's usually described by people as a sensation of something dripping into the throat, and this can be irritating and lead to a burning feeling.

A cough is also often common in people with post-nasal drip, as they constantly attempt to clear their throat.

There are many different causes of post-nasal drip including:

  • Allergies
  • Sinus infections
  • Viral infections like the common cold
  • Anatomic abnormalities of the nasal and sinus passage
  • Overuse of certain over-the-counter decongestants (called rhinitis medicamentosa)

An antihistamine/decongestant medication (for example, Claritin-D, which is loratadine and pseudoephedrine) is often used to treat post-nasal drip. Treating the root cause of the postnasal drip is also essential (for example, taking an antibiotic for a bacterial sinus infection).

It's interesting to note that gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can mimic or even coexist with upper airway cough syndrome, making diagnosis and treatment a bit more complex. 

A Word From Verywell

In the end, there are many potential reasons for why you may be experiencing a burning throat. Seeing a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is important, so you can get back on track to feeling well. 

Sources:

Choby BA. Diagnosis and Treatment of Streptococcal Pharyngitis. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Mar 1;79(5):383-90.

Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Diagnosis and Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Am J Gastroenterol2013;108:308-28.

Sylvester DC et al. Chronic Cough, Reflux, Postnasal Drip Syndrome, and the Otolaryngologist. Int J Otolaryngol. 2012;2012:564852.

Zakrzewska JM, Glenny AM, Forssell H. Interventions for the Treatment of Burning Mouth Syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001;(3):CD002779.

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