Recently in my outpatient clinic I have seen many patients presenting with complaints of throat itching, worried about COVID-19. Sometimes the words describing it are different, like sputum or saliva stuck in the throat or dryness in the throat. In India we have a term for it “Khich–khich”. In the pre-COVID era, all of these were considered banal symptoms by the patient, and only a minority of these reached the doctor after all home remedies had failed.
Throat itching and COVID-19
Fever with dry cough and loss of smell are the most characteristic symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Throat itching is not at the top of the list of symptoms. However, the recent rise of this symptom in otherwise healthy individuals can easily be explained.
Throat – the multi-lane highway
Throat is a common passage for three factors which can give rise to throat itching. These are:
- The air the we breathe in
- The food we eat
- Stomach contents – Acid reflux
Due to pollution and seasonal change, air is full of allergens that irritate the nose and the sinuses. This leads to a chronic inflammation of the mucosal lining of the nose and sinuses which may remain asymptomatic in some individuals. However, the mucosal lining is constantly trying to keep itself allergen free by producing mucus, this mucus flows down into the throat. If the weather is dry or a person’s water intake is low, this mucus becomes sticky and dry, thus irritating the throat.
Oily, spicy food, acidic food irritate the throat and tonsils. We know this thanks to Grandmothers everywhere. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we relied on natural immune boosters. These immune boosters are great in small amounts but if overdone they tend to irritate the lining of the throat, food pipe, stomach and intestines.
Our stomach produces hydrochloric acid for digestion. It normally flows forward into the small intestines which are prepared to handle its acidity. However, if this acid travels backwards and regurgitates into the food pipe and throat, it causes damage and swelling, this is perceived as itching, irritation or foreign body sensation in the throat. Chronic laryngopharyngeal reflux is also responsible for chronic dry cough.
If you suffer from these symptoms, you need to be seen by an ENT specialist. Most of the times these symptoms can be treated with a few lifestyle changes and medications.