A sore throat can result from any number of conditions, ranging from irritation from environmental pollutants (pollen or smoke, for example) to allergic reactions, to bacterial or viral infections, to the simple overuse of vocal cords due to singing or shouting. The sore throat is often the first symptom a person experiences with the onset of a cold or flu, making it a warning alert that you may need to seek treatment for infection.
Causes of Sore Throats
The Mayo Clinic has published research establishing that the majority of sore throats experienced by Americans are caused by viral infections, such as the common cold. The sore throat itself doesn’t provide clues about what illness it might be caused by, but the accompanying symptoms can narrow down the answer. Sneezing, coughing, body aches, and low fever probably indicate a viral cold; high fevers, fatigue, aching joints, and sometimes intestinal upsets indicate a viral flu. Illnesses like chickenpox and measles also begin with sore throats for most sufferers. A more serious illness is mononucleosis, which presents symptoms of sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, skin rash, fatigue, and headache. Some illnesses for which the sore throat is the main symptom include tonsillitis and strep throat, both of which are bacterial infections of the throat itself.
Treating a Sore Throat
Relief can be provided for a painful inflamed throat through simple home measures like humidifying the air and drinking warm liquids like tea. Added honey and lemon can help soothe the throat, and the intake of liquids in themselves is vital to helping your body’s immune response to infection. Gargling salt water can provide relief, and over the counter remedies like chloraseptic throat spray or lozenges can help to numb the inflamed and painful area. Inflammation itself can be reduced by taking over the counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Seeking Medical Care
A sore throat caused by a simple flu or cold probably doesn’t require the attention or assistance of a physician, unless the patient has other risk factors like autoimmune disorders which could make the cold itself a more serious health risk. However, if a sore throat persists for over a week, it’s time to check in with your physician and make sure it’s not anything more serious than a cold. Bacterial illnesses like strep throat will probably require antibiotic treatment to be healed.
As a rule, doctors shy away from overusing antibiotics for ailments that will heal of their own accord with time (such as a simple sore throat caused by a cold) because overexposure to antibiotics can actually result in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains which then couldn’t be addressed at all with regular antibiotics. For an infection like strep, however, antibiotics will be the answer.
A persistent sore throat could be symptomatic of more serious conditions, including possibilities like a throat tumor (particularly in smokers) or chronic acid reflux (with damage being caused to the esophagus by stomach acid), which should be addressed by a physician to keep you in the best of health.