If you have a burning sensation in your throat, you probably have a healthy concern for what might be going on inside your body. There are quite a few different medical conditions that can cause a throat-burning sensation. In most cases, a truly intense burning feeling in the tissues of the throat suggests that the issue stems from the stomach. There are, however, many non-gastrointestinal issues that can cause a slight burning feeling in the sensitive tissues of the throat and neck. The following list contains information about six common conditions that may help you discover the cause behind the burning sensation in your throat.
1. Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is a condition that most adults will have experienced at some point in their lifetime. In order to get a better understanding of what acid reflux is and why it occurs, let’s refresh our knowledge of the stomach. When a person consumes food, it travels down the esophagus, through a band of muscles called the LES (lower esophageal sphincter), and lands in the stomach where hydrochloric acid breaks the matter down before passing it into the intestines. The LES is a sphincter which means that it remains shut most of the time, except when it needs to allow things to pass through. Typically, the road to the stomach is a one-way street, but that unfortunately isn’t a strict rule. Some factors can affect the LES’s ability to function properly, such as how full the stomach is, the acid levels within the stomach, and the position of the body soon after consuming food. If a person were to eat too much or eat a large amount of food too quickly, the LES may feel a lot of pressure coming from inside the stomach which can result in spasms within the LES. When this occurs, food particles and stomach acid shoot up into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation. The same can occur when a person assumes a reclining position soon after eating. A heightened level of gastric acidity may also lead to reflux if the tissues of the LES become irritated and begin to spasm.
The primary symptom of acid reflux is a burning sensation in the esophagus. This may begin in the chest, usually where the rib cage splits or near the heart. This is where the term heartburn comes from. The sensation then travels up the chest in what may begin to feel like cool liquid, until it reaches the back of the throat. The taste is likened to a bitter or metallic substance. Coughing and throat irritation are commonly associated with acid reflux. The good news is that acid reflux is easy to treat. A small glass of fat-free milk or some plain fat-free yogurt can effectively neutralize the gastric acid and alleviate the symptoms of reflux. Over the counter antacid medications are also very effective because they contain alkaline minerals such as calcium, sodium, and simethicone which are excellent at neutralizing the stomach’s pH. Chronic acid reflux may be an advanced form of reflux known as GERD, or gastro esophageal reflux disease. This condition typically requires a stronger method of treatment in the form of prescription medication designed to reduce the body’s ability to produce stomach acid.
Esophagitis is an umbrella term that describes general inflammation of the esophagus. Inflammation is a natural response generated by the immune system whenever tissues become damaged or an infectious organism is detected. Inflammation causes swelling, raised temperature, and tenderness caused by increased blood flow to the area. The idea behind inflammation is that the extra blood will provide nutrients to repair any damaged tissues and also deliver extra white blood cells to fight the battle against any potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Inflammation of the esophagus can be caused by a wide range of things. Shouting too loudly at a sports game, eating rough or scratchy food, frequent or forceful vomiting, acid reflux, and a cold or flu can cause esophagitis. In most cases, the recommended treatment involves resting the esophagus and consuming foods and beverages that are easy to swallow. Cold drinks and frozen treats like ice cream can help to numb the discomfort caused by esophagitis, especially the burning kind of discomfort. If the condition seems to worsen or if it does not go away within the course of a week, it may be necessary to see a doctor. A persistent bacterial infection may require the help of an antibiotic in order to clear up the issue.
3. Dry Throat
It is possible that the burning sensation occurring in your throat is being caused by dryness and irritation. Low levels of humidity in your home could cause the tissues in your mouth, nose, and throat to become dryer than usual. All of the airways and surrounding soft tissues in your respiratory tract are lined with special ducts that release mucus to protect the pathways from irritating substances and to keep the tissues moisturized. Lack of moisture can lead to irritation that might mimic a burning feeling, especially in the throat, nose, and sinus regions.
A great way to combat dry air, especially in the winter, is to use an electric humidifier. Humidifiers help to restore moisture in the air which means that your body will no longer be a source of moisture for the atmosphere in your house. If your throat is really irritated and uncomfortable, you might consider adding a few drops of essential oils to the humidifier’s water tank. Eucalyptus is especially great for soothing dry skin and opening up the airways in the nose and lungs. Peppermint is another great oil to use, although the effects are usually not as strong as those of eucalyptus oil.
If the burning sensation seems to last for weeks at a time with little response to over the counter medication or home remedies for a sore throat, you might be suffering from allergies. An allergy is a condition in which a person’s immune system is hypersensitive to a certain item or items. It is sometimes referred to as “hay fever.” The item that triggers the allergic response is called an allergen. When an allergic person is exposed to a mild allergen, their immune system kicks up an internal storm that can cause all sorts of symptoms ranging from burning or scratchy sensations in their esophagus, to itchy, watery eyes, to coughing, to runny or blocked nose, to difficulty in breathing, to even a skin rash. When a significant reaction occurs in the throat, the most likely culprit is something that can be breathed-in or consumed.
If you suffer from the symptoms of allergies mostly in the spring and/or autumn seasons, you may have seasonal allergies. In this case, the likely allergen is pollen from the local flora and fauna of the season. Other potential allergens include dairy products, gluten, eggs, tree nuts, dust mites, and pet dander. Avoidance of the allergen will provide the best results, however it isn’t always possible to avoid certain triggers. In a situation like this, it is recommended that you try an over the counter allergy medication. Allergy medicine contains antihistamine which blocks the body’s ability to produce histamine—a major player in the body’s response to an allergen.
A burning sensation in the throat could also be the result of drainage from the Eustachian tubes. The Eustachian tubes are a pair of passageways that link the back of the nose and throat to the middle ear. These tubes generally help to regulate the pressure within the middle ear and to remove any excess fluid from the ears. During a cold, sinus infection, or an allergic response, the Eustachian tubes may become temporarily blocked due to excess fluid buildup in the nose or ears. This often causes the ears to ache and feel full and one may suffer a temporary change in hearing. Once the tubes begin to function again, there may be an influx in the amount of fluid that needs to be drained away which can cause mild irritation to the throat and nose. Drainage isn’t usually an issue, although it can be uncomfortable. If the Eustachian tubes continue to drain, but the feeling of fullness in the ear(s) never seems to go away, it may be necessary to see a doctor as this could indicate an infection. The same is true if the draining sensation near the back of the nose and throat persist for several days and is accompanied by a fever and signs of a cold or flu virus.
A respiratory infection is yet another possible cause behind burning and irritation in the throat. This type of infection is usually either bacterial or viral in nature and can affect the nasal passages, sinuses, and throat (in which case it would be an upper respiratory infection) or the trachea, bronchi, and lungs (which is defined as a lower respiratory infection). Many illnesses fall into the respiratory infection category, such as tonsillitis, laryngitis, cold, flu, sinusitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia. The symptoms of these conditions vary depending on which part of the respiratory tract is being affected. Most, however, are accompanied by fever, sore throat, coughing, and headache.
When dealing with a potential respiratory infection, it is always best to see a doctor. A proper diagnosis will allow the doctor to determine whether the condition is bacterial, viral, or fungal in nature which will then determine the corresponding course of treatment. Bacterial infections can be treated using antibiotics, while fungal infections require special antifungal medication. Viral infections cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be eased with over the counter pain medication until the body fights the infection naturally.