Understanding the Causes of an Itchy Mouth

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Mouth itchiness has several possible causes, including infections and food allergies. An itchy mouth should not be ignored because it can be an early warning sign of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction.

This article will discuss the possible causes of mouth itching, when to see a provider about the symptom, how an itchy mouth is treated, and how to prevent an itchy mouth.

An older adult pressing their fingers against the side of their mouth.

Daisy-Daisy / Getty Images

Why Is the Roof of Your Mouth Itchy? 

Causes of an itchy mouth include food allergies, a severe allergic reaction, and infections.

Food Allergies

The symptom of an itchy mouth is commonly associated with food allergies. The most common food allergies are milk, eggs, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish. Children commonly are allergic to milk, eggs, or peanuts and may outgrow the allergy.

Allergens are usually harmless substances in foods that trigger an allergic immune response in some people. The body's response releases histamine in the oral cavity, triggering inflammation that causes itchiness, tingling, and swelling of the mouth, throat, and tongue.

Another type of food allergy producing an itchy mouth is oral allergy syndrome (OAS). A person with an allergy to pollen (a powdery substance seed plants produce to reproduce) can have an itchy mouth reaction to raw foods containing proteins similar to those in pollen.

OAS affects people of all ages except for young children. All people with OAS have a pollen allergy, although not all people with a pollen allergy will develop OAS.

Some types of pollen allergens that can cause OAS are:

  • Birch tree pollen: Apples, apricots, cherries, kiwi, peaches, pears, plums, carrots, celery, almonds, hazelnuts, parsley, peanuts, and soybeans are foods that may cross-react with birch tree pollen and can be common triggers of OAS.
  • Ragweed pollen: Melons, zucchini, cucumber, bananas, white potatoes, and sunflower seeds are foods that may cross-react with ragweed pollen and are common triggers of OAS.
  • Grass pollen: Melons, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, and white potatoes are foods that may cross-react with grass pollen and are common triggers of OAS. Some people also get itchy red hands when peeling white potatoes.

A person with OAS will not have a reaction to food when it's cooked or canned because heat changes the proteins.

Anaphylaxis 

If you develop sudden chest tightness, trouble swallowing or breathing, or swelling of the tongue, throat, or lips, you could be experiencing anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe hypersensitivity to an allergen that causes an exaggerated whole-body immune response.

Anaphylaxis can be triggered by allergies to insect bites, venom, medications (such as antibiotics), food, latex, and more. Often, the reaction cannot be linked to a specific trigger.

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening and requires an immediate epinephrine injection (such as with an Epi-Pen) and emergency medical attention. If untreated, the combination of severe low blood pressure (hypotension), swelling that narrows the airway, and systemic inflammation can lead to organ failure and death.

Drug Side Effects

Some medications may produce inflammation of oral mucous membranes (stomatitis) or dry mouth, either of which can make your mouth itch. Drugs for cancer treatment that may produce stomatitis include:

Talk to a healthcare provider if you develop an itchy mouth after starting a medication or cancer treatment.

 Viral Infections

Viral respiratory infections like the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19 can also trigger an immune response that leads to inflammation in the oral cavity and symptoms like a sore or scratchy throat and itchy mouth. A viral infection is more likely to be the cause of your itchy mouth if you also have symptoms like fatigue, sneezing, fever, and general body aches.

Fungal Infections 

Candida albicans is a normally benign yeast that lives on the skin and in the mouth. It is the most common cause of oral thrush (oral candidiasis).

Symptoms of oral thrush include:

  • White patches inside your mouth that may bleed when peeled
  • Mouth pain or pain when eating or swallowing
  • Cracks and redness at the corners of your mouth
  • Feeling like there is cotton in your mouth

Itchiness is not generally listed as a symptom of oral thrush, but you may experience it if there is irritation at the corners of your mouth or inside your mouth.

Healthy people may get local yeast infections in the mouth, skin, and genital area. However, having a strong immune system and native bacteria on your skin and mucous membranes are usually enough to help your body fend off a yeast infection.

More serious fungal infections may develop if you have a weakened immune system from cancer treatment, organ transplantation, or HIV/AIDS. 

Treatment 

Treatment will depend on the cause of an itchy mouth.

Allergic Reactions 

Mild and moderate allergic reactions can be treated with oral antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Allegra (fexofenadine). However, these medicines are not effective treatments for anaphylaxis.

It is important to identify and avoid the trigger of your allergic reaction. Take note of when you have a reaction. You should also see a healthcare provider. They can refer you to an allergy specialist to verify that you have an allergy.

Once you find out what your allergy trigger is, read food labels and make sure that you are not exposed to a food or ingredient that has an allergen in it.

For oral allergy syndrome, peeling or cooking food can often reduce exposure to the allergen. You might be able to get immunotherapy (allergy shots) to reduce your reaction to the pollen that is cross-reacting with food.

Anaphylaxis 

Sudden chest tightness, difficulty swallowing or breathing, swelling of the tongue, throat, or lips, or allergy symptoms that last longer than usual can be signs that you are experiencing anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires prompt injection of epinephrine, such as with an Epi-Pen. You need to go to the hospital where treatment can be given. Even if your symptoms get better with an epinephrine auto-injection, it is important to get emergency medical care because the symptoms may return.

Viral Infections

Viral infections like influenza or the common cold usually get better on their own in a few days or weeks. In the meantime, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use over-the-counter (OTC) medications to reduce fever and relieve your symptoms. Stay home and away from other people to prevent spreading the virus to others.

If COVID-19 is the cause of your itchy mouth, taking an oral antiviral medication called Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) within the first five days of having symptoms may help reduce your symptoms and risk of hospitalization.

Fungal Infections 

In mild, localized Candida oral thrush, a short course of topical antifungal medication is given (e.g., tablets, patches, gels, or suspension). In moderate or severe cases, oral Diflucan (fluconazole) may be prescribed. If it does not work, a different antifungal agent can be tried.

When to Look for a Healthcare Provider

If you experience recurrent symptoms of itchy mouth, associated generalized symptoms like rash or hives, or your symptoms last for more than 30 minutes, see a healthcare provider to find out the exact trigger of your symptoms. You might also be referred to an allergy specialist.

If your itchy mouth is associated with swelling of the mouth, tongue, or throat, it can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction and you need to seek immediate emergency attention.

How to Prevent an Itchy Mouth 

The following strategies may help prevent troublesome itchy mouth episodes caused by allergies:

  • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms
  • Read food labels and know how the food that triggers your allergy can be listed (e.g., by different names)
  • Cook your food to destroy pollen allergens
  • Wash and peel fruits and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Use a food diary to document the foods that trigger your symptom
  • Carry an allergy card that you can show to staff at restaurants
  • Get vaccinated to prevent viral infections from the flu or COVID

Summary 

An itchy mouth can be caused by infections, food allergies, or a severe allergic reaction. Treatment depends on the cause, but emergency treatment with injected epinephrine and a trip to the hospital is needed in case of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

A Word From Verywell 

An itchy mouth can be mildly bothersome for some and extremely worrisome for others. You don't want to ignore the symptom because it can be a sign of life-threatening anaphylaxis.

If you experience an itchy mouth, consult a healthcare provider. They may refer you to an allergy specialist who can help find out what is causing your symptoms, explore ways to avoid potential triggers, and develop a treatment plan. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does COVID-19 cause your mouth to itch?

    Allergies and COVID-19 share many symptoms, so it can be hard to differentiate between the two. However, an itchy mouth most often points to an allergy while a scratchy or sore throat can be associated with COVID.

  • Should you be worried if the roof of your mouth is itchy?

    An itchy roof of your mouth (palate) typically goes away in five to 10 minutes, but like other allergy symptoms, if it lasts for longer than 30 minutes or does not go away with the use of an oral antihistamine, call your healthcare provider. 

  • Is an itchy mouth a symptom of anxiety?

    An itchy mouth can be a symptom of anxiety, but it is more commonly associated with food allergies and viral or fungal infections.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Pollen food allergy syndrome.

  3. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Oral allergy syndrome (OAS).

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  5. Lacouture M, Sibaud V. Toxic side effects of targeted therapies and immunotherapies affecting the skin, oral mucosa, hair, and nails. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2018;19(Suppl 1):31-39. doi:10.1007/s40257-018-0384-3

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.

  7. National Health Service. Treatment: food allergy.

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Anaphylaxis.

  9. Lee S, Bellolio MF, Hess E, Campbell R. Predictors of biphasic reactions in the emergency department for patients with anaphylaxisJ Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2014;2(3):281-287. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2014.01.012

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: protect yourself and others.

  11. Food and Drug Administration. EUA Paxlovid fact sheet.

  12. Pappas PG, Kauffman CA, Andes DR, et al. Clinical practice guideline for the management of candidiasis: 2016 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2016;62:e1-50. doi:10.1093/cid/civ933

  13. Penn Medicine. Is my scratchy throat allergies or omicron?

By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.