Having a sore throat is more or less an universal experience—everyone’s had that scratchy, painful feeling in their throat at least once in their lives. Just because it’s a common ailment, however, doesn’t mean that we should view sore throat with casual disregard. Knowing more about common ailments lets us take better care of not only ourselves, but also our loved ones. Here at Homage, we want to empower you to do just that—-we’ve prepared a simple guide for everything you should know about sore throat from its causes, remedies, treatment options, and prevention.
What is a Sore Throat
Simply put, sore throat, or acute pharyngitis, is understood in the broadest sense to refer to the painful inflammation of your throat, or pharynx. It is typically primarily experienced as scratchiness, pain, or irritation in your throat that often worsens when you swallow. On its own, a sore throat is nothing to worry about, and usually resolves within a week without treatment.
Sore Throat Symptoms
Depending on the exact cause of your sore throat, however, you may experience a variety of symptoms.
These can include:
- Runny nose
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Swollen and red tonsils
As there are a large number of exact causes for sore throat, the specific symptoms that you may experience can vary from just having classic inflammation of the throat to any combination of the symptoms listed above. While some symptoms seem bearable without treatment, it is best to consult a doctor if your symptoms cause you great discomfort or are not resolving on their own.
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What Causes Sore Throat?
There are many possible causes for your sore throat. Generally, they fall into 3 main categories:
- Viral Infection
- Non-viral Infection
- Other Non-Infectious Causes
Sometimes our throats are simply irritated by coming into contact with foreign substances or particles that we consume, inhale, or otherwise introduce into our throats. Of course, this then causes the signature inflammation of a sore throat, leading us to feel the characteristic pain, scratchiness and hoarseness.
Some possible sources of irritation include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Inhaled irritants
- Reflux esophagitis
- Chemical toxins (caustic agents)
- Dry hot air
- Hot foods or liquids
The most common cause of sore throat is a viral infection—in fact, 70-95% of all sore throat cases are caused by a viral infection. When tissue in the throat is infected, our throat can become inflamed as our body mounts an immune response to fight the infection.
Some possible viral infections that could be responsible for your sore throat include:
- Epstein-Barr viral infection—causes mononucleosis, also known as mono
- Parainfluenza viral infection — causes human parainfluenza, or upper and lower respiratory tract infections
- Influenza viral infection — causes flu or influenza
- Rhinoviral infection — causes common cold
- Coronaviral infection — usually causes mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, now notorious for causing COVID-19
- Adenoviral infection — causes a range of illnesses including the common cold, fever, pink eye and sore throat
- Herpes simplex viral infection — causes oral and gential herpes
- HIV infection — well-known sexually transmitted disease
Sore throats caused by viral infections are also commonly accompanied by other symptoms such as pink eye, inflamed nose, cough, ulcers, croup, or inflamed voice box.
In contrast, sore throats caused by bacterial infections rarely have accompanying symptoms like those caused by viral infections.
Some possible bacterial infections that could be responsible for your sore throat include:
- Group A Streptococcal infection — causes strep throat, scarlet fever and other diseases
- Diphtheria — causes diphtheria disease that can affect respiratory tract or skin
- Arcanobacterium haemolyticum — common bacterial infection that causes sore throat in teenagers and young adults
- Gonorrhoeae — common sexually transmitted disease
Other Non-Infectious Causes
Some causes of sore throat are not environmental but neither are they infectious.
Here are some of them:
Tumours in your throat, tongue, or voice box can lead to a sore throat. Other signs or symptoms may include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, noisy breathing, a lump in the neck, and blood in saliva or phlegm.
Overstrain of your throat
Shouting, talking too loudly or for too long without adequate rest can place unnecessary strain on your throat, causing pain
GERD or constant acid reflux from your stomach into your esophagus can inflame your throat and cause pain.
Given the myriad of possible causes for a sore throat, it is clearly best to consult a doctor to put your mind at ease, especially if your symptoms are causing you undue discomfort or worry.
Sore Throat Risk Factors
While everyone and anyone can get a sore throat, certain factors put you at additional risk.
Here are some of them:
Group A Streptococcal infection is the most serious out of the viral causes for sore throat because of its possible complications. Children aged 5 to 15 are typically most susceptible. On the flipside, seniors are also more at risk due to their weaker immune systems that cannot fight off infections as adequately.
Exposure to smoke can irritate the throat and increase the risk of cancer. Exposure to chemical irritants and other irritants can likewise, cause your throat to become inflamed.
Since the most common causes of sore throat are due to infections, having a weak immune system puts you at additional risk of contracting infections that lead to sore throat.
Red Flags for Sore Throat
Of course, everyone knows that most of the time, sore throats are more likely than not, minor inconveniences that resolve themselves even without treatment. There are, however, some red flags associated with sore throat that you should watch out for:
- Toxic appearance that can include grunting, weak or persistent cry, sunken eyes, and grey or mottled skin.
- Prolonged fever for more than 2 weeks
- Prolonged sore throat or more than 2 weeks
- Trismus, or lockjaw
- Cyanosis, or blueish discoloration of the skin
- Hemorrhage, or bleeding
- Asymmetric welling of the tonsils and or lymph nodes
- Respiratory distress, such as airway obstruction or pneumonia
- Severe, unremitting pain
- “Hot potato” voice, or when you sound like you have a hot potato in your mouth
- Chest or neck pain
- Weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms alongside your sore throat, you should seek immediate medical attention as they are indications of serious and potentially life-threatening medical conditions.
Is Sore Throat Contagious?
Whether your sore throat is contagious depends on its exact cause. Sore throats caused by viral and bacterial infections are definitely contagious while those caused by environmental irritants or triggers are not contagious.
Since the most common causes of sore throat are viral and bacterial infections, however, your sore throat is more than likely to be contagious. If you have a sore throat, it is best to practice good hygiene like washing your hands regularly and avoid sharing food with other people. This helps to prevent the spread of your sore throat and is only basic social courtesy and responsibility especially in a post-covid-19 world.
Diagnosing Sore Throat
During your consultation, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. It is likely that your doctor will also use a light to examine the back of your throat and nasal passages. They may also check your neck for any swollen glands or lymph nodes.
As streptococcal infections are the most common yet serious cause of sore throat, your doctor will very likely ask to test you for it. This involves swabbing your throat for a sample to test for the presence of Group A streptococci bacteria.
If your doctor suspects that there may be other causes for your sore throat, they may recommend further tests, specific to the suspected cause. You may also be referred to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or otolaryngologist for further diagnosis and testing.
Sore Throat Home Remedies
If you feel that your sore throat is relatively mild and you don’t have any other symptoms that would be of concern, you can consider trying out some home remedies to relieve your sore throat.
Here are some of the remedies you can do at home:
- Gargle with warm, salty water
- Drink warm liquids that soothe your throat, like hot tea with honey, warm water, or herbal tea.
- Eat cool or soft foods that help lessen irritation in your throat
- Suck on some ice or candy
Most home remedies for sore throat are rather intuitive, see what works for you and have fun trying them out. Maybe your sore throat is the perfect excuse to figure out what your favourite brand of honey is, or the perfect time to indulge yourself in some ice cream. Sore throats can be miserable, but treating a sore throat doesn’t have to be.
Medicine for Sore Throat
Medication for sore throat is available and can be taken for relief, or to treat the underlying cause of your sore throat.
Some common non-prescription medication you can take for sore throat relief include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen
- Painkillers, like aspirin
These medications are freely available at pharmacies across the island and you should ask a pharmacist for more specific recommendations. Pay attention to dosage instructions as well before taking any medication.
Antibiotics for Sore Throat
If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, however, you will need to take antibiotics for treatment especially if it is a streptococcal infection that causes strep throat and other serious afflictions.
Antibiotics are completely ineffective if your sore throat is caused by a viral infection. If you suspect that your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, it would be wise to consult a doctor and get a confirmed diagnosis.
Your doctor will then prescribe the appropriate antibiotic for your bacterial infection. You should remember to finish your entire course of antibiotics to prevent leaving any lingering bacteria alive, which could make you sick again. This also helps to fight the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Essential Oils for Sore Throat
Essential oils are known for their antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. This allows them to be an effective treatment for respiratory tract infections, which often has sore throat as a symptom.
Here are some common essential oils that you may consider using to treat your sore throat:
Eucalyptus oil can be used to treat cough, cold, bronchitis, helping to relieve symptoms and clear blockages in your upper respiratory tract. You can either inhale it as vapour made from 12 drops per 150 ml of boiling water, or apply it as an ointment made from 1 tablespoon (15 ml) per litre of warm water up to three times a day. Avoid using it during pregnancy without medical advice.
Peppermint oil can be used for symptomatic relief of coughs and colds. You can inhale it by dropping 3-4 drops into hot water. Do not apply peppermint oil to the chest or nasal area of infants and children as it can cause spasms of the vocal cords or in the respiratory tract. It should also not be used during pregnancy without medical advice.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil can be used to treat respiratory infections like cold, influenza, and bronchitis. You can apply it at a 5-10% percent concentration with its safe use. You should also not use it during pregnancy without medical advice.
Thyme oil is used to treat respiratory disorders like mucus build-up in the respiratory tract, or whooping cough. You can use 4–5 drops of thyme oil for inhalation. Children under 5 years of age, those with epilepsy or thyroid diseases or pregnancy should avoid using it.
Of course, before using any of these essential oils, you should consult a doctor if you’re uncertain if they’re suitable for your specific health situation. This helps to ensure that you get the treatment that you need for your sore throat in a timely and efficacious manner.
Now that you’ve gone through our Homage guide to sore throat, you’re more than ready to bid good bye to your scratchy and painful throat. If, however, you’d like more tailored guidance and support in treating your sore throat, our friendly Homage Care Advisors and Care Specialists are always available 24/7 to help you at 6100 0055.
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