5 Reasons Why Your Throat May Be Burning

Get relief from this unpleasant sensation

There's a host of 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. Explore the most common reasons for a burning throat and how your doctor will likely treat it so you get relief.

causes of a burning throat
 Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

The hallmark symptom of GERD is a burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn. It occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. But sometimes the acid travels so far up the esophagus that it reaches the throat and voice box. When that happens it's called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR). Interestingly, half of people with LPR have what's known as "silent reflux," which means they don't experience heartburn or an upset stomach. Other symptoms of LPR include:

  • Continual throat clearing
  • Chronic throat irritation
  • Chronic cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Excessive phlegm the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Constant sensation of something in the throat

Unlike with GERD, which occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle in the esophagus relaxes abnormally or weakens, LPR requires two muscles—both the LES and the upper esophageal sphincter—to function improperly. Diagnosis is relatively easy and is usually made based on a physical exam.

As with GERD, 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 you're overweight or obese can help manage and prevent LPR.

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 food allergies (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 inhibitor are generally recommended.

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 that has no apparent health-related cause. Someone with burning mouth syndrome may also experience a dry mouth and/or a salty or metallic taste in their mouth.

Burning mouth syndrome is a complex problem and requires what's known as a diagnosis of exclusion.

This means that other causes of a burning and/or dry mouth must be ruled out first through a physical examination and blood tests. Since the cause of the syndrome often can't be determined, treatment is challenging and focuses on helping to control symptoms. 

Viral or Bacterial Infection

Everyone has experienced a sore throat, a painful inflammation of the back part of the throat, at some point in their lives, with the most common cause being a virus. 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, so treating the symptoms with rest, over-the-counter pain meds, salt water gargles, and throat lozenges or anesthetic throat sprays is the recommended course of action.

Less commonly, the cause of an infection is bacterial, and this is called strep throat. It requires a trip to your doctor for an antibiotic, since if left untreated it can spread and lead to serious complications 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, also referred to as upper airway cough syndrome, occurs when mucus and fluid from the sinuses and nose drain into your throat. It's usually described 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 if you have postnasal drip, as you constantly attempt to clear your throat.

There are many different causes of postnasal 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 like Claritin-D, which is a combination of loratadine and pseudophedrine, 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 gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can mimic or even coexist with upper airway cough syndrome, which makes the diagnosis and treatment a bit more complex.

Find Relief for Postnasal Drip

A Word From Verywell

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

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