Burning Throat: What Causes It and What to Do About It
Read on to learn more about some potential causes of a burning throat and how to treat them.
A burning throat is a hot or fiery feeling in your throat. The throat has three areas, including the:
- nasopharynx, which lies behind the nasal cavity and extends down to the uvula
- oropharynx, which is the portion at the back of the mouth
- laryngopharynx, which connects to the oropharynx at the top and the larynx at the bottom
A burning throat sensation can result from irritation or inflammation anywhere in the throat. It can affect the top of the throat, at the back of the nose and mouth, or deeper in the larynx.
Conditions affecting either the respiratory system or the digestive tract can be the cause of the discomfort. The location of the burning can be a clue to the underlying cause.
A burning throat may originate from conditions in the digestive tract or the respiratory system.
A burning throat may arise from problems in the digestive tract, including:
- gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
- hiatal hernia
- occasional heartburn from lifestyle habits, such as consumption of alcohol or fatty, greasy, or spicy foods
- peptic ulcer disease
A burning throat may also arise from problems in the respiratory system, including:
- bacterial infections, such as strep throat
- viral infections, such as the common cold, flu, mononucleosis, or croup
A burning throat can also occur due to conditions that can lead to heartburn, including:
Serious or life threatening causes
In some cases, a burning throat may be a symptom of a severe or potentially life threatening condition, including:
- epiglottitis, which is inflammation of the tissue that protects the windpipe
- esophageal cancer
- tumors of the tongue, throat, or larynx
Because a burning throat is a symptom, treatment depends on the underlying cause.
Some people may be able to relieve a burning throat by sucking on throat lozenges or using an oral anesthetic spray. Gargling with salt water can also relieve burning throat for some people.
Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may also be beneficial. OTC antihistamines can help relieve allergy-related symptoms.
You may also be able to manage a burning throat at home by adjusting your diet or lifestyle. For example, people who experience GERD could benefit from:
- maintaining a moderate weight
- avoiding lying down for 3 hours after meals
- refraining from eating spicy, fatty, or acidic foods
For upper respiratory infections due to viruses, doctors may recommend decongestants to reduce coughing and relieve throat burning. For some conditions, such as the flu, early antiviral treatment may shorten symptom duration and reduce the risk of complications.
For severe GERD or peptic ulcer disease, some people may need prescription medications to manage their symptoms. Doctors can prescribe drugs to reduce stomach acid production, like proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers.
More severe conditions that cause a burning throat, like epiglottitis or cancer, will require additional treatments. Talk with your doctor about the best way to manage a burning throat resulting from these or other serious conditions.
In addition, contact your doctor for an appointment if home remedies are not sufficient.
Depending on the underlying cause, a burning throat can occur with other symptoms.
The sensation of burning in the throat may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract, including:
- hiccups or belching
- frequent heartburn or indigestion
- problems swallowing, throat tightness, choking, or feeling like there is a lump in the throat
- a sensation of tasting stomach contents or sour liquid in the back of the throat or mouth
A burning throat may also accompany other symptoms affecting the respiratory system, including:
- bad breath
- cough or hoarseness
- new or worsening asthma or breathing problems
- pain with swallowing or throat scratchiness
- runny or stuffy nose
- swollen, red tonsils or white patches on the tonsils
Other symptoms can occur outside the digestive and respiratory systems, including:
- fever, chills, or malaise
- general discomfort in the chest area
- headache or body aches
- sleep problems, including interrupted sleep
- unintended weight loss
Similar to treatment, the potential complications of a burning throat depend on the underlying cause. Once you know the underlying cause, it is important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan to reduce the risk of potential complications, including:
- Barrett’s esophagus, which increases the risk for esophageal cancer
- metastasis or spread of esophageal cancer
- esophageal ulcers or stricture, which is a narrowing of the esophagus
- conditions that can follow strep throat, including:
The outlook for people with a burning throat depends on the cause. Some cases, such as those from GERD or allergies, may resolve easily with lifestyle changes or OTC medications. Other conditions may require treatment from a medical professional and can take longer to resolve.
Follow your doctor’s treatment plan for symptom relief.
A burning throat is not always serious and may not require medical treatment. However, a medical professional needs to address throat discomfort that persists or worsens.
In addition, other symptoms that might indicate a more serious condition can accompany a burning throat. Get prompt medical care if you have a severe or persistent burning throat with any of these symptoms:
- coughing or spitting blood
- difficulty breathing, swallowing, or opening your mouth
- fever higher than 101°F (38°C)
- rash or joint pain
Here are a few other common questions about a burning throat. Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP, reviewed the answers.
What is a burning throat a symptom of?
A burning throat can result from various conditions. These may include GERD, respiratory infections, allergies, or more serious conditions like epiglottitis. Contact your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
Is burning in your throat heartburn?
Heartburn can cause a burning sensation in your throat. Certain conditions like GERD can cause stomach contents and acid to flow backward into the esophagus, creating a burning sensation.
Can COVID cause a sore throat?
Various conditions can contribute to a burning throat. Contact your doctor if your symptoms worsen or do not improve with at-home care.