A sore throat is one most common symptoms, accounting for more than 2% of all adult primary care visits annually. Also called pharyngitis, the symptom occurs when the throat is red, swollen, and painful, especially when swallowing. Yet, it happens when the back of the throat, called the pharynx, is inflamed.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Sore Throat?
A sore throat can be experienced differently based on what’s causing it and how severe the symptoms are. A sore throat can feel like:
- A scratchy sensation in the throat
- Pain with swallowing
- Discomfort with talking
- A burning sensation
- Swollen glands in the neck
For those with infection, other sore throat symptoms may include fever, cough, muscle aches, and hoarseness of voice.
What Are The Causes Of Sore Throat?
Due to viral infections, sore throats can occur because of the following:
- common colds
- EBV (Epstein Barr Virus), which may lead to infectious mononucleosis, sometimes known as glandular fever or mono
The most common type of throat infection is strep throat, which is due to exposure to a strain of Streptococcus bacterium. The symptoms can include:
- a fever
- a sore throat that develops suddenly
- pain when swallowing
- white patches on the throat
- red or swollen tonsils
- red spots on the mouth roof
- swollen or tender lymph nodes in the neck area
- white patches on the throat
Exposure to pollen, grass, or dust can often trigger sneezing, nasal congestion, and cough for those with allergic rhinitis. When this happens, post-nasal drip can make the throat scratchy and give an uncomfortable sensation. Also, for an allergic cough, a sore throat can be felt due to irritation from coughing.
Another cause of sore throat is reflux. With reflux, some of the acidic content of the stomach comes up and can go high enough to irritate the throat, especially after meals or when being in certain positions. There may also be voice hoarseness or a sensation of frequently needing to clear the throat.
Breathing in dry air can leave the throat feeling scratchy and uncomfortable. This is an especially common cause of sore throat in winter months when many people have the heater on throughout the day and night. Using a humidifier can be very helpful.
Multiple environmental irritants have been shown to lead to sore throats, ranging from air pollution to tobacco smoke and chemical fumes.
Overusing the vocal cords, like yelling more than usual, can cause a painful throat and hoarseness.
Tonsil stones, or tonsilloliths, are small white or yellow pebbles that can form in the crevices of the tonsils. Nonetheless, they are caused by the buildup of small bits of food, minerals, or bacteria. In fact, they can cause a sensation of something stuck in the throat’s back, bad breath, sore throat, and difficulty swallowing.
Other rare causes
Tumors are a very rare cause of sore throat. They may lead to chronic sore throat (lasting over 2 weeks) and ear or jaw pain, and general symptoms, such as headaches and unexplained weight loss, may accompany them.
What Are The Treatment and Medication Options for Sore Throat?
The doctor may prescribe medications depending on the underlying health condition causing the sore throat.
Antiviral medicines may be effective if the flu is associated with a sore throat. This is because it can shorten the illness’ length and make symptoms milder. Aside from reducing the risk of flu complications, antiviral medications are often recommended for people who are at high risk, such as children, older adults, and people with certain pre-existing conditions.
If the virus causes a sore throat, antibiotics won’t help, and it will usually go away within five to seven days. That said, to reduce antibiotic resistance, it’s important to take antibiotics only if the infection is caused by bacteria that require them.
Moreover, narrow-spectrum antibiotics are limited in the number of bacteria targeted by the drug and will not affect as many normal bacteria in the body. Guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America recommend narrow-spectrum antibiotics such as penicillin. Penicillin is the treatment of choice for strep throat.
Amoxicillin is considered a broader-spectrum antibiotic, so it will kill more bacteria than penicillin. OTC (over-the-counter) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help ease symptoms. Children under 18 should not take aspirin; in children and teens with viral infections, it’s been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that leads to swelling in the brain and liver.
Home Remedies for Sore Throat
The following home remedies may help soothe a sore throat:
- Getting rest
- Avoiding alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking warm liquids, such as lemon tea or tea with honey
- Gargling with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water) throughout the day
- Drinking cold liquids or sucking on fruit-flavored ice pops
- Sucking on hard candies or throat lozenges (for adults only)
- Running a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier
How to Avoid Sore Throat Symptoms?
When relieving a sore throat, it’s best to prevent it before having one. A two-fold prevention approach can help avoid the viruses and bacteria that bring on painful sore throat symptoms:
- Support Immunity. A strong, healthy immune system improves the chances of fighting off viruses and recovering quickly if or when sick. To support the immune system, get plenty of rest, always stay hydrated, and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. In addition, gargle with salt water daily as an added preventive measure.
- Practice Safe Hygiene. Practicing good hygiene habits can avoid coming into contact with cold and flu viruses that may result in sore throat. According to CDC, the top of the list for healthy habits is washing hands frequently, which is at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to avoid infecting oneself and others.
The Bottom Line
Sore throats have become a painful annoyance that can cause inflammation at the back of the throat and surrounding area. The Cache Valley Ear, Nose & Throat team has over 75 years of combined experience treating throat conditions. Address your throat symptoms today if you have issues in this vital body area that can impact activities like swallowing, speaking, and digestion.