Sore Throat - Treatment, Causes, Home Remedies & More
Written By: Dr. Nazia Ahmed
An otolaryngology specialist, Dr. Nazia Ahmed completed her MS at RGUHS in India. She has worked as an associate professor and ENT surgeon at MES Medical College in India, and as a specialist ENT Surgeon at the Badr Al Samaa Group of Hospitals in the UAE.
Updated On:October 12, 2021
What is a Sore Throat?
Sore throats are extremely common. They can make eating & even talking painful. A sore throat creates scratchiness & irritation in the throat that can worsen when swallowing. Common causes include viral infection, such as colds & flu, or bacteria. While a majority of sore throats are not serious, severe symptoms can lead to difficulty breathing. Although sore throats are often uncomfortable, they usually go away on their own.
Symptoms of Sore Throat
The symptoms of a sore throat are common & easily recognised. Familiarise yourself with the below list, but remember, if any symptoms persist, or cause increasing, prolonged pain, call you’re the Medcare medical team for advice, support & treatment.
Common signs and symptoms of sore throat include:
- Dryness, & a reduced ability to talk
- Scratchiness & irritation in the throat
- Swelling & soreness in the neck glands or jaw
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Pus or white patches on the tonsils
In case of upper respiratory tract infection, symptoms differ slightly, & include:
- Cough & fever
- A runny nose
- An aching body
- Nausea &/or vomiting
Types of Sore Throat
Types of sore throat include:
- Pharyngitis: Affects the area behind the mouth
- Tonsillitis: Awelling & redness of the tonsils, (the soft tissue at the back of the mouth)
- Laryngitis: When the infection spreads down to the larynx (the voice box) & voice, hoarseness & cough appear due to swelling & redness of the voice box, or larynx.
Home remedies are an effective way to soothe sore throat discomfort until it goes away. However, sometimes a persistent sore throat will require medical treatment.
Causes of a Sore Throat
Viruses & bacteria are the most common sore throat causes.
Viruses: Many sore throats are a result of viral infection, such as:
- Common colds
- Epstein Barr virus (EBV), which leads to glandular fever
Bacteria: “Strep throat” is a common type of bacterial throat infection that results from exposure to a strain of streptococcus bacteria.
- A fever greater than 101F/38C
- White patches on the throat
- Swollen, tender glands in the neck
You may need antibiotics to fight infection & prevent complications. Untreated “strep throat” may heighten the risk of rheumatic fever or kidney inflammation among the young.
Other Common Causes of Sore Throat
Some additional common causes of sore throat include:
- Irritation from dry heat, cold air, pollutants, or chemicals
- Gastro-Esophagus Reflux Disease ( GERD ) when stomach acids come into the back of the throat
Other less common, but severe, conditions that may include a sore throat include:
- HIV infection
- Tumors of the throat, tongue, or larynx
- Epiglottitis (a rare throat infection where inflammation & swelling of the epiglottis can close the airway, making breathing difficult)
Those most at risk of frequent sore throats include:
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with allergies
- Children aged 5–15 years
- Those who have come into contact with chemical irritants
- Those with frequent or long-term sinus infections
If you have ongoing or severe sore throat symptoms, talk to Medcare, as you might have an underlying condition that requires further treatment.
When to See a Doctor for a Sore Throat
If home remedies for sore throat haven’t helped your throat pain go away, & symptoms aren’t easing, contact your Medcare team. A long term, persistent sore throat can be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition, & we can rapidly assess & advise on the best course of management & treatment to help you back to full health.
Diagnosis of a Sore Throat
Sore throats often go away on their own within 5–10 days, & home treatment is usually satisfactory in alleviating the symptoms. But sometimes medical treatment is necessary.
See your Medcare doctor if you have:
- A severe, persistent sore throat
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Swelling of the neck or face
- A fever of 101F/38C or above
- Blood in the saliva or mucus
- A lump in the neck
- Hoarseness that lasts more than a fortnight
- Earache, or
- A rash
Taking a Swab
If your doctor suspects the sore throat is bacterial, they may take a throat swab for lab testing, to determine the presence of strep infection. The sample is taken by touching the back of the throat & tonsils with a cotton-tipped applicator. A rapid strep test provides results in minutes, but doctors will often recommend an additional 48-hour culture test to confirm the rapid strep test results.
If a test is negative, this means the infection is viral, & antibiotics will not cure it.
If it is positive, your Medcare doctor can provide antibiotic treatment.
If a doctor suspects Epstein Barr Virus, a blood test can confirm this.
Treatment for a Sore Throat
Sore throat treatment depends on the suspected – & diagnosed - cause.
- Bacterial infection: In bacterial infection, such as strep throat, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.
- Viral infection: Sore throats caused by a viral infection usually start to improve within seven days & do not require medical treatment. Mild over-the-counter pain relievers may help with pain & fever.
If you are diagnosed with epiglottitis, you may need to spend time in hospital. In severe cases, intubation to help you breathe may be required. If the examination reveals a tumor or another cause, appropriate treatment options will be discussed.
Medicine for Sore Throats
Over-the-counter medications to relieve sore throat pain include:
- Sore throat sprays with numbing antiseptic &/or cooling ingredients
- Throat lozenges
- Cough syrup
Some herbs, including licorice root, slippery elm & marshmallow root are available as sore throat remedies. Medication to decrease stomach acid can help with GERD-related sore throats. These include:
- Antacids: to neutralize stomach acid
- H2 blockers to reduce stomach acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) which block acid production
Low-dose corticosteroids can also help with sore throat pain, without causing serious side effects.
Home Remedies for Sore Throats
Most sore throat cases can be treated at home. A range of simple, straightforward home remedies and care may help relieve sore throat symptoms:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Cold foods, like popsicles
- Gargling with warm saltwater
- Lozenges or oral spray
- Soothing drinks including honey, lemon & ginger - consuming warm liquids can help ease discomfort
- Zinc acetate lozenges
- Slippery Elm
- Marshmallow root (for a cough)
- Garlic supplements
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Unproven home remedies should be avoided by those:
- Aged under 18 years, or
- Who are pregnant, or
- Who have certain health conditions
Always check with your Medcare health professional before taking alternative remedies, to make sure they are safe & will not interact with other medication.
Risk Factors of a Sore Throat
There are many risks that can lead to a sore throat, including:
- Age: Children & teens are most likely to develop (Bacterial, strep) sore throats
- Allergies: Dust, mold or pet dander make sore throats more likely
- Chemical irritants: Particles in the air from burning fossil fuels & common household chemicals can cause throat irritation
- Chronic sinus infections: Drainage from your nose can irritate your throat or spread infection
- Close quarters: Viral & bacterial infections spread easily anywhere people gather, whether in child care centers, classrooms, offices or airplanes
- Weakened immunity: You're more susceptible to infections in general if your resistance is low
Common causes of lowered immunity include:
Complications of a Sore Throat
Sore throats are most commonly caused by viral infections. But severe or continual pain might be a serious problem. If pain lasts longer than three weeks, contact Medcare.
General complications of bacterial pharyngitis include:
- Sinusitis (sinus inflammation)
- Epiglottitis (inflammation & swelling of the epiglottis, at the back of the throat, which can dangerously block the airway)
- Mastoiditis (a bacterial infection that affects the mastoid bone behind the ear, more common in children)
- Rheumatic fever (a disease that can affect the heart, joints, brain, & skin if strep throat infections are not treated properly)
- Glomerulonephritis (acute inflammation of the kidney)
- Otitis media (infection of the middle ear)
Prevention of a Sore Throat
Some simple steps can help prevent a sore throat. To avoid the microbes that predominantly cause a sore throat:
- Wash your hands often, including after sneezing & coughing
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue & immediately dispose of it
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers where soap & water are unavailable
- Avoid touching your nose or mouth
- Regularly clean telephones, devices, remote controls & computer keyboards with sanitizing cleanser. When travelling, clean phones & remotes in your hotel room
- Don’t share food, eating utensils, or drinking glasses
- Avoid touching public telephones & drinking fountains with your mouth
- Avoid close contact with sick people - & stay away from others if you are sick
- Avoid smoking or being near smoke
Sore throats can affect all of us at some point – but there’s no need to suffer in silence. Contact Medcare today for support, advice & appropriate sore throat treatment to get you swiftly back to full recovery.
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