A sore throat is a painful sensation at the back of the throat, which may cause discomfort when swallowing or speaking. It can be caused by a range of factors such as bacterial or viral infections, allergies, and sleeping with an open mouth. Although sore throat symptoms usually clear up in a few days, it’s important to consult a doctor if symptoms persist for more than a week, worsen, or if you develop other symptoms such as fever or swollen lymph nodes. Dr. Annabelle Leong is an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon with more than 17 years ENT experience in Singapore. She manages all types of ENT conditions in both adults and children including throat concerns, blocked nose, snoring, sinus and sleep disorders.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
A sore throat can initially feel dry and scratchy, or it may feel like a burning sensation. As the condition progresses, one may experience a sharp pain in your throat when talking or swallowing. Discomfort may also be felt in your ears or along the side of your neck.
Should a sore throat be a cause for concern?
It depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, such as if it lasts for more than two weeks, a sore throat may indicate a more serious condition like throat cancer. However, in most cases, a sore throat is associated with less severe illnesses. It would be best to consult with a top ENT doctor to understand the underlying cause.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
In addition to throat pain, a sore throat can cause other symptoms like fever, headache, upset stomach, swollen lymph nodes, nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, fatigue, and hoarseness.
What are the causes of sore throats?
Strep throat and bacterial sinus infections are examples of bacterial infections that can cause sore throats. These infections are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacterial infections.
Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, pets, or mold can also cause sore throat. This is because the postnasal drip from the mucus that drips down the back of your throat irritates it, causing dryness and scratchiness. Treatment for allergies usually involves avoiding the allergen and taking antihistamines or decongestants.
Tonsillitis is another cause of sore throat. The tonsils at the back of the throat trap microbes. When the tonsils become infected and inflamed, they cause pain and discomfort. Bacteria and viruses can cause tonsillitis, and treatment usually involves antibiotics, pain relievers, and rest.
People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may also experience sore throat. GERD occurs when the acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and pain in the throat. Treatment for GERD usually involves lifestyle changes, such as avoiding certain foods and losing weight, and medication to reduce acid production.
Overuse of irritants and smoking as well as voice straining through screaming can also cause sore throat. Thus, resting the voice and avoiding irritants can help in relieving symptoms.
Finally, mouth breathing during sleep can also cause sore throat. Breathing through the mouth can cause dryness and irritation, leading to soreness. Using a humidifier and practicing good sleep hygiene, such as maintaining a regular sleep schedule, can help alleviate symptoms.
How to diagnose a sore throat?
Doctors typically use a physical examination to diagnose sore throats, which involves inspecting the throat, tongue, and ears. To eliminate strep throat as a possibility, ENT specialists may perform a strep test.
How to treat a sore throat?
The treatment for a sore throat depends on its underlying cause. If the sore throat is due to a cold, a doctor may suggest taking over-the-counter medications to alleviate cold symptoms and sore throat. In the case of strep throat, antibiotics may be prescribed to address the bacterial infection. Other treatments are available for specific causes of sore throat, such as postnasal drip caused by allergies, which may be treated with antihistamines to dry up mucus. Acid reflux can be managed with antacids.
There are also things one can do at home to help alleviate sore throat symptoms. Taking a throat lozenge or hard candies may provide temporary relief. Drinking warm liquids like tea with lemon and honey, broth, or bouillon often helps ease the pain and scratchiness. Sucking on ice chips or popsicles can also provide relief. Using a humidifier or vaporizer to add moisture to the air can help soothe dry throats, especially at night when sleeping. It is also important to get plenty of rest, especially if the sore throat is due to overuse of the voice from singing, shouting, or talking a lot. Avoiding irritants like smoking or passive smoke and spicy foods, can also help reduce irritation and allow the throat to heal.
If you want to get rid of a sore throat quickly, it is important to identify the root cause. In general, getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and avoiding irritants are the best ways to help alleviate sore throat symptoms and speed up the healing process.
How to prevent a sore throat?
In addition to protecting yourself against colds and flu, there are other steps you can take to prevent developing a sore throat:
- Practising good hygiene: Washing hands frequently, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Staying hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to keep your throat moist and prevent dryness.
- Avoiding irritants: Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, pollutants, and chemicals that can irritate your throat. If you must be around irritants, wear a mask to protect your respiratory system.
- Using a humidifier: If you live in a dry environment, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and prevent dryness in your throat.
- Practising healthy habits: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and staying physically active. This can help boost your immune system and reduce your risk of infections that can cause sore throats.
- Avoiding yelling or speaking loudly: If your job or activities require speaking loudly, take breaks and rest your voice. Try using a microphone or amplifier to reduce strain on your vocal cords.
- Avoid sharing personal items: Avoid sharing personal items like utensils, towels, and toothbrushes, as they can spread germs and increase your risk of infection.
By following the above preventive measures, you can reduce your risk of developing a sore throat and other respiratory infections