5 Reasons Why Your Throat May Be Burning

Get relief from this unpleasant sensation

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There's a host of health conditions that may cause a burning throat. Some of them may be more serious than others, but all of them can cause discomfort that needs to be treated.

The good news is that it's fairly straightforward for a healthcare provider to tease out the cause. They will find it based on your other symptoms and a physical examination.

This article will help you to learn some common reasons for a burning throat. It also will describe how your healthcare provider treats each condition so you get relief.

causes of a burning throat

Verywell / Emily Roberts

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

The hallmark symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn. It happens when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

Sometimes the acid rises all the way up to the throat and voice box. When that happens it's called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). Interestingly, half of the people with LPR have "silent reflux," which means they don't experience heartburn or an upset stomach.

Other symptoms of LPR include:

  • Constant feeling that something is in the throat
  • Phlegm in the throat
  • Throat clearing
  • Throat irritation
  • Chronic cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing

GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle relaxes too much or weakens. The LES normally keeps stomach acid from coming back up into the esophagus. With LPR, the upper esophageal sphincter, which keeps acid from coming back up into the throat, also doesn't work well.

A diagnosis is fairly easy and is usually made based on a physical exam.

Lifestyle changes may help with both GERD and LPR. These changes include quitting smoking and limiting or cutting out alcohol use. Some foods, like chocolate, spicy foods, and citrus fruits, may also trigger reflux. If you're overweight or obese, losing weight can help you to manage and prevent LPR.

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

Esophagitis 

Esophagitis is another condition that may cause burning in your throat. It is an inflammation of the esophagus, and GERD is a common cause.

When stomach acid is refluxed into the throat, it can cause irritation and inflammation. This usually leads to a burning sensation in the throat. It also may cause trouble or pain with swallowing.

Besides GERD, other causes of esophagitis may include infections or taking certain pills. It also may be caused by radiation therapy to the neck area, chemical ingestion (for example, drinking drain cleaners), or food allergies. When caused by a food allergy, it is called eosinophilic esophagitis

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. For example, if a fungal infection is involved, then an antifungal medication is needed. If GERD is the cause, then lifestyle changes and a proton pump inhibitor may be needed.

Burning Mouth Syndrome

Burning mouth syndrome is the medical term for a long-lasting—and sometimes very severe—burning sensation in the tongue, lips, gums, palate, or all over the mouth and throat. It has no clear health-related cause. Someone with burning mouth syndrome may also have a dry mouth and/or a salty or metallic taste in the mouth.

Burning mouth syndrome is a complex problem and requires what's known as a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that other causes of the symptoms must be ruled out first through a physical exam and blood tests.

Treatment may be challenging if the symptoms have no clear cause. If that's the case, the focus is on helping to control symptoms.

Viral or Bacterial Infection

Everyone has had a sore throat at some point in their lives. This painful inflammation of the back part of the throat is usually caused by a virus, though there may be other reasons.

In addition to a burning, itchy, or raw throat, especially when swallowing, someone with a viral infection of the throat may also experience a cough, runny nose, hoarseness, and/or diarrhea (in children).

Antibiotics don't work against viruses. That means the goal of treatment is to manage the symptoms with rest, over-the-counter pain meds, saltwater gargles, and throat lozenges or sprays while the infection runs its course.

Less commonly, the cause of an infection is bacterial, and this is called strep throat. It requires a trip to your healthcare provider for an antibiotic. If left untreated, it can spread and lead to serious issues like rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, and kidney inflammation.

Other signs and symptoms of strep throat often include:

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

Postnasal Drip

Postnasal drip is sometimes called upper airway cough syndrome. It occurs when mucus and fluid from the sinuses and nose drain into your throat. People usually say they feel something dripping in the throat, and this can be irritating and lead to a burning feeling. A cough is also common as you constantly attempt to clear your throat.

There are many different causes of postnasal drip including:

An antihistamine/decongestant medication, like Claritin-D, is often used to treat postnasal drip. Treating the root cause—for example, taking an antibiotic for a bacterial sinus infection—is also essential.

Sometimes the symptoms of GERD seem the same as postnasal drip, or both happen at the same time. This makes the diagnosis and treatment a bit more complex.

Summary

There are a few possible reasons for why you feel a burning in your throat. Problems with gastric reflux, whether GERD or LPR, are among the most common. An inflamed esophagus or an infection are others.

While there may be less serious reasons, like postnasal drip, some of these conditions are, or can become, serious. It's important to let your healthcare provider know about your symptoms so you can get the right diagnosis and treatment.

A Word From Verywell

There are many reasons you may be experiencing a burning throat. While your family healthcare provider or primary care healthcare provider can diagnose most conditions, sometimes you might need to see a specialist. They may include a gastroenterologist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT). Seeing a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is important, so you can get back on track to feeling well.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can GERD be cured?

    Usually not permanently, but symptoms can be managed with lifestyle changes such as eating smaller meals, avoiding certain foods and carbonated drinks, and avoiding eating too close to bedtime. It's also helpful to avoid any intense exercise until food is digested, sleep on a slight incline, quit smoking, and lose weight if needed.

  • Who is at risk of getting burning mouth syndrome?

    Burning mouth syndrome is more common in postmenopausal women and people with a condition called geographic tongue. There may be a genetic link, and people with certain conditions like diabetes, thyroid disease, or liver disease may also be at higher risk of burning mouth syndrome.

  • How is burning mouth syndrome treated?

    The treatment options for burning mouth syndrome are limited. Some people try using ice chips or chewing gum to ease symptoms, and others are prescribed medications such as antidepressants or anti-seizure drugs. Many people see symptom improvement within five years even if they do not get treatment.

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7 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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