Last Updated October 11th, 2019
A sore throat is a feeling of pain, irritation, and itchiness that worsens when you swallow. A sore throat is a common experience which most of us relate to. Normally, the onset of viral infection, cold or flu starts with a sore throat. Sometimes a change in water or weather also leads to that annoying feeling of itchiness and pain in the throat. If it is due to a virus then it will most likely resolve on its own whereas bacteria-induced sore throat requires antibiotic treatment.
Symptoms of a sore throat
Typically, symptoms of a sore throat depend on what is causing it, whether it is bacterial, viral or allergy-induced.
- Pain while swallowing
- The hoarse voice in case of laryngitis
- Cough and cold
- Itching sensation in the throat
- Pus on the surface of the tonsils caused by bacteria or virus
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Difficulty in breathing, and talking
- Skin rash
- Body aches
- Redness of the oropharynx
- Difficulty in spitting
- Headache and watery eyes
Causes of a sore throat
- Viral infections cause sore throat. Flu, cold, strep throat, tonsillitis, mononucleosis, chickenpox, measles, croup, whooping cough are the symptoms seen in virus-related sore throat
- Some viruses cause blisters in the mouth and throat
- Bacterial infections like streptococcus
- Allergies to pets, pollen can cause itchiness and pain
- Weather changes
- Drinking untreated water
- Exposure to air pollution
- General anesthesia for any surgical procedure
- Dryness in the throat due to dry indoor weather
- Smoking, drinking alcohol, chewing tobacco
- Eating very spicy food
- Chronic sinusitis
- Overworking the vocal cords by yelling, talking loudly for long hours
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acids in the stomach get into the food pipe causing cough and irritation in the throat
- HIV symptoms in the early stages appear in the form of sore throat. In this case, it could be a fungal infection that can become complicated due to low immune levels
- Tumors in the throat, tongue or larynx cause difficulties in swallowing, breathing along with sore throat
- Any injury to the throat due to a hit or a food particle getting stuck can cause discomfort in the throat
- With aging, there is degeneration of the nasopharyngeal structures causing throat infections
What are the different types of sore throat?
Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the sore throat with pain while swallowing
Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx that causes hoarse voice along with a sore throat and includes pain while swallowing
Strep throat is due to bacterial infection and requires immediate medical attention. It causes a fever more than 101F with headache and vomiting. This is contagious and it is better to avoid contact with people who have been recently diagnosed with it.
Croup is a form of laryngitis affecting children that breaks into heavy cough and difficulties in breathing.
Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils. Most often surgical intervention is needed.
Epiglottitis is a rare type of sore throat that affects children. The airways are blocked and may need emergency medical help
Other types of sore throat could be indicative of other medical conditions. A persistent sore throat needs to be investigated.
How do specialists diagnose a sore throat?
A doctor will first do a clinical examination of the throat.
- Examinesthe throat, nose,and ears
- By gently pressing on the neck, looks for swollen glands (lymph nodes)
- Will also look for changes in breathing using a stethoscope
- A throat swab is taken by using sterile cotton to collect the secretions from the back of the throat for testing in the laboratory
- Neck X-ray is advised in case of suspected epiglottis or croup
- Specialists ask for throat culture test in certain cases, and this test result takes up to 48 hours
- Antibody and blood test is needed in case of suspected mononucleosis
Finding out the medical history of the patient is a very critical part of the diagnosis.
Duration of a sore throat
How long a sore throat lasts depends upon what has caused it.
- A sore throat with a cold caused by viruses normally lasts a few days to more than a week
- Mononucleosis-related sore throat lasts longer than that of a common cold
- Strep throat, which is a bacterial infection, has to be treated with antibiotics
- If the sore throat is due to the usage of toxic substances like smoking, then it will last as long as the exposure continues
When is the right time to seek medical help for a sore throat?
Get professional medical care when you notice the following symptoms:
- Sore throat associated with severe cough and pain
- Temperature above 101F
- Dehydration symptoms along with sore throat
- Any close person diagnosed with a strep throat
- Blood in saliva or phlegm
- Recurring sore throats
- Stiff neck with acute pain
- Difficulty in breathing
- A sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks could indicate serious illnesses like cancer or HIV.
Treatment for sore throat
A sore throat caused by a virus does not require any medication and resolves on its own. However to get relief from throat congestion or fever you may take a Tylenol. The sore throat usually lasts for a week to ten days
- Strep throat caused by a bacterial infection requires antibiotic treatment. The dosage is prescribed by the doctor. Sometimes the medication is continued till it is completely cured
- If tonsillitis is the cause for sore throat, then in all probability surgery may be required. This is called a tonsillectomy
- Allergic medicines are given if the sore throat is due to pollution. Take care to avoid dust and pollen, breathing masks give relief in such cases
- Corticosteroids are used in case of a sore throat caused byepiglottitis or a croup
Sore throat and pregnancy
Any health issue during pregnancy needs extra care as the treatment can affect the child.
- Common cold with a sore throat can be cured with home remedies that do not have any adverse effect
- In other cases, doctors prescribe safer antibiotics to treat sore throat caused by bacteria
- Abstaining from treatment during pregnancy creates more complications
Complications involved with a sore throat
Commonly occurring sore throat does not pose any complications. However, some bacterial infections cause a sore throat with rheumatic fever, post-streptococcal, glomerulonephritis that have a damaging impact on heart, nerves, joints, and kidneys.
Persons affected with Epiglottitis need to take Type IV antibiotics and most often needassisted breathing, therefore a hospital admission is required.
Facts on sore throat
- Nearly 20% of kids will test positive for strep throat if they are tested. They are strep carriers without any significant symptoms
- Pharyngitis happens to all age groups while tonsillitis happens onlyamong children
- Sore throat is mostly caused by viruses and not bacteria
- According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 11,000 to 13,000 cases of invasive Group A strep diseases occur each year in the United States.
- World Health Organization estimates 111 children in the developing country have impetigo, which is a non-invasive Group A Strep disease
- Strep throat and scarlet fever occur more in winter and spring, whereas impetigo is more common in summer
- Strep throat is not contagious after 24 hours of taking medicines; without treatment, it is contagious for 10 to 21 days
Medication for sore throat
Doctors prescribe medicines after a thorough examination. Once the cause of sore throat is determined, medicines are given accordingly. Antibiotics are not helpful if the sore throat is due to a virus. Some of the medicines prescribed are:
- Ibuprofen, Tylenol to give relief from pain
- Medications for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GRD) include antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors
- Anti-allergy medicines
- Cough syrups to reduce the cough and irritation in the throat
- Nasal decongestant sprays give relief to a sore throat. Prolonged use of these sprays is not advisable
Home remedies for sore throat
- Gargling with salt water 3 to 4 times, a day is very effective. Salt has an antiseptic property and warm water soothes the throat
- Avoid caffeine
- Drink hot soups, tea, and warm water with honey. Adding ginger to tea gives relief from pain in the throat
- Getting enough sleep promotes faster recovery. It could be a case of the body asking for rest
- Increase the intake of fluids
- Throat lozenges are not useful except for very mild types of sore throat
- Steam inhalation by adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil gives instant relief
- Giving rest to the voice helps reduce inflammation. Talking and screaming must be avoided
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day and rinsing mouth after every meal keeps the bacteria away
- Take Vitamin C supplements to strengthen the immune system
- Use an air filter if the air quality is poor
How to prevent a sore throat?
Practicing hygienic habits like washing hands is a good way to keep the infection away
- Keep away from people who already suffer from sore throat. Avoid sharing, eating and drinking from the same utensils used by them
- Avoid using toxic substances like tobacco
- Use breathing masks to get protection from dust, and air pollution
- Complete the full course of antibiotics to decrease the risk of transmission of the bacteria to others
- Avoid contact with infected surfaces like doorknobs, phones, and computers
- Keep the mouth covered while coughing and sneezing
Sore throat and singers
Keeping the vocal cords in the best of the condition is very crucial for any singer. Therefore, much care is needed to retain voice clarity. A simple sore throat can upset the schedule of a singer with far-reaching implications. Therefore, singers give utmost care to their throat as their career depends on the health of the vocal cords.
- Sore throat creates dryness, therefore singers have to keep away from caffeine, red wine, and spicy food. Keep away from air-conditioning as much as possible
- A good posture is important as the vocal muscles require the support of bigger muscles in the body. Poor posture puts pressure on the vocal cords
- Singers have to keep their body well hydrated by drinking 2 to 3 liters of warm water in a day. Avoid coldwater as it can trigger a sore throat. Warm water is soothing and good for the throat.
- Hot water steam (keeping the head over a bowl of hot water) without adding anything in it helps to hydrate the cords. It also clears up the thick mucous lining in the throat caused by a sore throat
- Singers have to avoid late-night eating as it can create problems with acid reflux. For this reason, they keep away from acidic foods like apples, tomatoes, and fizzy drinks
- Having mildly hot tea with a tablespoon of honey helps to soothe the throat and removes the stress and soreness from the vocal cords
- Singers observe “vocal rest” where they go into complete silence for 48 hours or as long as they can, to strengthen vocal cords. This helps them to recover from long hours of singing. Silence is the simple rule with a sore throat, especially with laryngitis.
The prognosis for a sore throat
A sore throat caused by viruses or bacteria responds well to the treatment and is completely cured. In severe cases, the antibiotic course is extended for complete relief. Sore throat with complications like epiglottis, rheumatic fever, glomerulonephritis, and post-streptococcal can also be life-threatening. Follow up for sore throat is necessary in cases where the symptoms do not subside or if there are any side effects due to medicines.
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