Everything you need to know about sore throat

Viral infections are the most common cause of a sore throat.

Suffering from a sore throat can be a real bother, especially when attempting to speak or eat. This usually results in a painful sensation or irritation in the throat that gets worse each time you swallow.

Understanding the symptoms

A sore throat is usually caused by a viral infection known as pharyngitis, which normally goes away on its own. There are a variety of symptoms that can help you identify a sore throat.

These include pain when swallowing, swollen glands in the neck and jaw, a hoarse voice or pus in your tonsils.

There are other symptoms such as fever, cough, sneezing, body aches, headache and nausea or vomiting.

Seek immediate medical care should your child be suffering from a sore throat coupled with difficulty in breathing and swallowing or unusual drooling.

Adults should see a doctor if they suffer from the following symptoms – a sore throat that lasts for more than a week, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in breathing, difficulty in opening your mouth, joint pain, a fever higher than 38.3°C and blood in the saliva or phlegm.

What exactly causes a sore throat?

Viral infections are the most common cause of a sore throat, but bacterial infections can cause it too.

These viral illnesses include the common cold and influenza, measles, chickenpox, Croup cough and whooping cough.

A bacterial infection known as streptococcus pyogenes is the primary cause of strep throat, another form of sore throat.

Strep throat usually resolves on its own. However, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics in order to prevent complications such as rheumatic fever.

Other medical conditions that can result in a sore throat are allergies, dry indoor air, air pollution, muscle strains, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), HIV infection or tumours on the tongue, throat or voice box.

What factors put you at risk?

One of the main factors is age. Children and teens are more likely to suffer from sore throats. Children between the ages of three to five years are the most prone to suffer strep throat.

Exposure to tobacco smoke and chemical irritants also puts you at risk. Tobacco smoke exposure increases the risk of mouth, throat and voice box cancer.

Allergic reactions to dust, mould or pet dander also makes you prone to developing a sore throat. A sinus infection can irritate your throat.

An immune system that has been weakened due to HIV, diabetes, cancer treatment using steroids or chemotherapy, stress, fatigue and an unhealthy diet all increase the possibility of developing a sore throat.

Preventive measures for sore throat should focus on good hygiene.

How can you prevent a sore throat?

Environmental and lifestyle factors are the primary causes of sore throat. Thus, preventive measures should focus on good hygiene.

Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before eating, after sneezing or coughing. Use alcohol-based sanitisers when hand-washing is not accessible.

Avoid sharing food, drinking glasses and utensils or drinking from water fountains as well as physical contact with sick people.

Regularly clean bacteria magnets like telephones, TV remotes and computer keyboards.

Can a sore throat be remedied?

Unfortunately there is no known remedy for sore throats from viral infections currently. However, there are a few treatments which can alleviate the pain.

The easiest remedy for a sore throat is to drink warm liquids that soothe your throat, like hot tea with honey or soup. If you prefer a cooler alternative, opt for a Popsicle or ice cream.

You can also pop a lozenge or use a throat spray to numb the pain temporarily. However, avoid giving lozenges to children.

Home remedies include gargling a mixture of warm water and salt, turning on a cool mist humidifier, and speaking less.

Note that giving aspirin to children is a strict no-no, primarily due to its link to Reye’s disease. Reye’s disease is a disorder that can cause brain damage and potential fatality.

Decongestant nasal spray can also be used to relieve sore throats, but be sure to stop using the spray after three days, as it can increase congestion in the nasal passage.

What if your sore throat persists?

If you have a persistent sore throat, seek medical attention immediately. If your doctor suspects you have strep throat, he will take a throat culture to diagnose the condition.

A throat culture means running a swab over the back of your throat to test for bacteria. The sample will be sent for lab testing, and you will get your results in a few days.

This article first appeared in Hello Doktor. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.