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Is a Dry Throat a Symptom of Illness?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated Jan 21, 2024
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Dry throat is a common medical complaint, but it is not always the result of an illness. Sometimes an arid throat may just be a reflection of living in a very dry environment or occurs because of exposure to cold air. Either situation can leave the throat feeling parched. This condition may be more noticeable during the winter months, when the use of indoor heaters increases the amount of dry air in the home.

Everything consumed has to pass down the throat, and therefore determining causes may include examining what an individual eats or drinks. Diuretic substances are often associated with a dry throat. Diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol increase urination, causing the body to lose more water and sometimes causing the throat to dry out. A number of medications can also cause dryness in the throat.

One frequent cause of a dry throat is irritation. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose when asleep or simply sleeping with the mouth open can expose the throat to dry air. This dry air irritates the membranes in the throat and can dehydrate them. Tobacco smoke, dust, and other pollutants in the air can also cause irritation, leading to a dry or scratchy throat. Generally, individuals suffering from a throat that is dry due to irritation will notice that the problem is worse in the morning.

In some situations, however, an arid throat associated with irritation may indicate an underlying illness. For instance, individuals who suffer with obstructive sleep apnea, a type of sleep disturbance where a physical obstruction blocks the airway, may notice a dry, raw throat after waking. With this condition, a number of other symptoms are usually identifiable, including loud snoring, short pauses in breathing, and feeling fatigued throughout the day. Additionally, the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can sometimes lead to a throat that is dry. CPAP machines push air into the airway to prevent pauses in breathing from occurring, and for some individuals, the forced air can be drying.

Usually, a throat that is dry is more likely to be a symptom of illness when it occurs along with other symptoms. For instance, individuals with hay fever or allergies may notice a variety of symptoms besides dryness in the throat, including sneezing, a runny nose, and post nasal drip. Laryngitis, a disorder involving inflammation of the vocal cords, may also involve an arid throat. Additional symptoms that can occur with the condition can include a dry cough, hoarseness, and pain when swallowing.

Regardless of the cause, some treatment methods can have universal appeal. For home treatment of a dry throat, increasing the amounts of fluid consumed can help stop the irritation. Sipping on water throughout the day can help with hydration, while herbal teas laced with honey can provide soothing relief. Keeping the mouth occupied by sucking on cough drops or chewing gum encourages saliva production so the throat stays moister. Using a humidifier at night may also help keep moisture in the air and prevent the dryness that occurs with sleeping.

The ability to determine if throat dryness is caused by an illness may not always be possible. For persistent dryness, occurs with other worrisome symptoms such as a high fever, or when an underlying cause is not known, a visit to a medical professional may be needed. In some instances, such as suspected sleep apnea, a visit to an otolaryngologist may be necessary. These ear nose and throat doctors usually have the specialization needed to understand the causes of a dry throat and find the appropriate treatment option.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Sep 29, 2013
@indigomoth - Have you tried many sore throat remedies when you get the dry air symptoms? I find that if I start gargling with mouth wash and drinking tea with honey and lemon as soon as I start feeling the symptoms of a sore throat coming on, it tends to be much less painful.

Sometimes it doesn't even develop into a sore throat, which is always a good thing.

By indigomoth — On Sep 28, 2013

@clintflint - Well, when we moved to Colorado as kids, my mother used to put pans of water all over the house because she thought it would stop us from getting nose bleeds from the dry air. So it's possible a change could make your throat feel dry. You might want to think about getting a humidifier for your house if that is the case. They aren't that expensive these days.

I tend to get a dry, itchy throat when I've about to get a cold. It is the most annoying thing, because there doesn't seem to be much I can do to stop it even when I know it's coming. The longer the dry throat lasts, the worse the throat infection seems to be when it starts in earnest.

By clintflint — On Sep 28, 2013

Whenever I live in a landlocked area, I tend to start getting a dry throat and a dry mouth. I don't know if it's just because of dry air or if it's some kind of psychological thing, but it seems to happen every time.

The only thing that seems to help is to have hot drinks every few hours. I usually just have a bit of lemon in hot water, because I don't like to have that much caffeine.

When I move back to the ocean, I feel better within a few days.

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