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What Causes a Burning Throat?

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Updated April 02, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Question: What Causes a Burning Throat?
Answer:

There can be several causes of a burning throat, such as a sore throat or inflammation of the adenoids. A more common cause of this burning sensation is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The burning sensation caused by GERD can occur high up in the throat or lower in the throat, and the pain may feel worse with swallowing. There can also be a sour, salty, or acidic taste in the mouth.

The esophagus and stomach are connected by a band of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, the LES works like a valve, opening to allow food to pass into the stomach and closing to keep food and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus. But if the sphincter relaxes when it shouldn't, or becomes weak, stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.

GERD and a burning sensation in the throat When stomach acid is refluxed into the esophagus, at times it may reach the throat. When this happens, the throat is irritated and a burning feeling may occur.

Esophagitis and a burning sensation in the throat A condition called esophagitis may cause a burning feeling in the throat. Esophagitis is an inflammation of the esophagus. The most common cause of esophagitis is GERD. When stomach acid is refluxed into the throat, it can cause irritation, which may lead to this irritation. Other causes of esophagitis include infections, surgery, or chemotherapy.

Heartburn (acid reflux) can occur for a number of reasons. These include eating foods that often trigger heartburn, such as acidic foods (e.g. tomatoes and citrus fruits), Drinking alcohol, Smoking cigarettes, being pregnant, and being overweight.

If you suffer from chronic heartburn, you should speak with your doctor. The two of you can discuss a treatment plan that works for you. A doctor will usually suggest lifestyle modifications first. You can also reduce your chances of heartburn occurring by avoiding foods that can trigger heartburn, and how to sleep to prevent nighttime heartburn. If these don't work to control your heartburn, your doctor will discuss with you other treatment options, such as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs).

Sources:

"Heartburn and GERD FAQ." American College of Gastroenterology. 9 Feb 2011

"Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 07–0882 May 2007. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 9 Feb 2011

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