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Itchy Throat

Throat: The Basic Facts

On a survey conducted last 2002 to 2004, 14% of children under 18 years of age are brought to the physician with complaint of having an itchy throat [1]. Ticklish throat sensations are thought to be relieved by tugging an earlobe and massaging it between the thumb and forefinger. This method actually stimulates the nerves in the ear, triggering a muscle to spasm and preventing further itch [2].

These are indeed two interesting facts! With a huge number of patients coming for consult due to throat symptoms, it would really be fun if such a simple maneuver would totally relieve such symptom. It is just right that a very common complaint be dissected and analyzed. This article aims to enlighten us on the facts that evolve such a very usual, yet underrated manifestation.

 

Throat: Its Anatomy

Known as gala in Latin, the throat is a muscular tube shaped like a ring and composed of structures for both respiration and digestion. It consists of the tonsils or lymphoid tissues, the larynx, which is the voice box of the human body, and the pharynx, the organ which serves as the passageway of both the air going to the lungs and the food transported for digestion. It has a flap, the epiglottis, which prevents food from entering the airway. It is also comprised of conduits: the trachea, the windpipe transferring gas from the larynx to the bronchi, and the esophagus, transporting food from the pharynx to the gastric area. [3, 4, 5]

throat

An illustration of the throat with its parts labeled.

Source: www.cadillacent.com

Tickling: How the Throat Itches

The throat has a lining composed of mucus-secreting glands. The mucus produced protects the wall of the throat, allowing uninhibited passage of both food and air. However, once irritated, the nerves found in this mucosal lining prevent mucus secretion, causing the throat to dry up and itch. [3, 6, 7]

Causes of Throat Itching

Triggers of throat itchiness and irritation include a diverse array of diseases and substances. Hence, a ticklish throat may just be a simple irritation or a symptom to a very complex disease. Below are some of the causes initiating such throat symptom.

  • Bacterial Infections

Certain bacteria like Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza, Diphtheria, Anthrax, and Brucella cause throat infections, affecting either the tonsils or epiglottis. Throat itching may be associated with sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes and headache. This condition can be treated by antibiotics and surgery, in far more chronic and serious cases. [3, 8]

  • Viral Infections

These infections often affect the upper respiratory tract leading to an itchy throat. Such illnesses include the common colds, mumps, flu, infectious mononucleosis, varicella, measles, herpes, and even bird flu. Patients with these may also present with fever, myalgia, colds, joint pain, and body malaise. They usually resolve spontaneously and are just treated symptomatically. [3, 9]

  • Fungal Infections

Individuals with prolonged steroid use, organ transplant recipients, and those affected with diabetes, AIDS, cancer and other diseases that reduce the immunity are at higher risk of developing fungal infections in throat. Most of these infections are brought about by Candida and are usually treated by antifungals. [3, 10]

  • Dryness of the Throat

Aside from throat itching, throat drying may also appear along with dryness of the integument, the eyes and the oral cavity. This may be caused by dehydration, nasal congestion, excessive caffeine intake, cold and windy weather, substances like alcohol, marijuana and nicotine, and medications such as opium, diuretics and barbiturates. This dryness also appear in a disorder called Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease characterized by decreased production of saliva and tears. [3, 10, 11]

  • Irritants

Exposure to substances like nicotine, marijuana, cocaine, spices, hot liquids, industrial and automobile gases, metal fumes, dust, laboratory chemicals and household cleansers may also give rise to throat pruritus. [3, 10]

  • Foreign Body Ingestion

Presence of some foreign bodies in the throat, like a stuck piece of food, can cause discomfort and itching of the throat. These types of foreign bodies should either be swallowed or removed by coughing out. [3]

  • Allergens

A wide array of allergens may induce itchiness of the throat. These consist of pollen grains, dust, molds, pet dander, food, and even climate changes. Ingestion and inhalation of these substances usually lead to itchy throat, facial swelling, watery eyes, difficulty of breathing and development of wheals. Oral administration of antihistamines is one simple type of itchy throat remedy for such conditions, but avoidance of the allergen is the definitive treatment for such. [3, 7, 10]

  • Medical Procedures

Diagnostic methods like endotracheal intubation, and bronchial and gastric endoscopies leave the patient with a pruritic throat for a few days. This usually is due to the insertion of objects, such plastic tubes and scopes into the throat, when performing the said procedures. [3]

  • Using the Voice Loudly

Speaking or singing in a loud voice develops a sore, itchy throat. This condition can last for a few days and can be treated similarly to a dry throat. [3, 7]

  • Neck Disorders

Various neck disorders including enlarged thyroid gland, tumor, abscess, dislodged tissues and adhesions following a surgical procedure may cause tickling of the throat. This may be brought about by the pressure exerted from outside, irritating the throat within. [3]

  • Tumors

Itching of the throat is also observed in the presence of tumors in pharynx or larynx, lymphomas, metastases and cancers in neck and chest. These cough triggering tumors can be removed only by surgery. [3, 10]

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux

When the acid from stomach come up to the throat due to reasons like vomiting, a reflux of the gastroesophageal contents occur. This often results in a burning sensation or heartburn, along with an itchy throat. [3, 10]

gastroesophageal reflux

An image depicting reflux of gastroesophageal contents, creating a burning sensation on the chest and an itchy throat.

Source: www.beyondbeds.com

  • Psychological Causes

Sometimes repeated dry cough minus any apparent reason is psychologically induced and is just habit formed. This repeated cough bouts cause drying of the throat, hence, itchiness. [3]

Treatment for Itchy Throat

Oral fluid intake is the mainstay on treatment modalities relieving itchy throat. A dry throat can be immediately managed by drinking water, as this will provide adequate moisture to the throat. Dehydration, a major cause of itchy throat, is also best managed with oral rehydration of fluids.

Gargling with saline solution, or lukewarm water with some salt, also reduces throat symptoms. Other home remedies for a ticklish throat also include honey, lemon, ginger, garlic cloves, herbal tea, and milk with turmeric. Throat lozenges can also be used for temporary relief.

If persistent and faced with a concomitant condition, an itchy throat condition can be treated with pain relievers, antibiotics, corticosteroids, antihistamines and anti-cough syrups depending on the disease. Severe, unrelenting conditions may even require surgery. [7, 10, 12]

 

Be Cutthroat with an Itchy Throat

Yes, it could just be a simple ticklish throat… But it could also be a symptom of a complex disease like pneumonia, or even, a more severe carcinoma! Hence, if presented with such symptom, a consult with a physician is imperative. One must be cutthroat on throat symptoms!

 

References:

  1. Machlin, S. et al, Treatment of Sore Throats: Antibiotic Prescriptions and Throat Cultures for Children under 18 Years of Age, 2002-2004 (Average Annual). Statistical Brief # 137. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. 2006 Aug.
  2. http://www.omg-facts.com
  3. http://www.healthhype.com
  4. http://www.en.wikipedia.org
  5. http://www.chop.edu
  6. http://www.ehow.com
  7. http://www.redetb.org
  8. http://www.throat-infections.co.uk
  9. http://www.webmd.com
  10. http://www.md-health.com
  11. http://www.mayoclinic.com
  12. http://www.coldflu.about.com



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