Having a sore throat (pharyngitis) can be a real bother, especially when attempting to speak or eat. This can usually come in the form of a painful sensation, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that gets worse each time you swallow.
Let Us First Understand the Symptoms
A sore throat is usually caused by a viral infection known as pharyngitis, which usually goes away on its own. There are a variety of symptoms that can help you identify a sore throat. This includes pain when swallowing, swollen glands in the neck and jaw, a hoarse voice or pus in tonsils.
There are other symptoms which also point to a sore throat, 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 indicated through signs such as difficulty breathing and swallowing, as well as unusual drooling.
Adults, on the other hand, should see a doctor if they suffer from the following symptoms, amongst others, a sore throat that lasts for more than a week, having difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, difficulty opening their mouth, joint pain, fever higher than 38.3°C, and blood in the saliva or phlegm.
But What Exactly Causes Sore Throat?
Viral infections are usually the common causes of a sore throat, but bacterial infections can sometimes cause it too. Viral illnesses that can cause a sore throat include the common cold and influenza, as well as more serious conditions such as measles, chickenpox, Croup cough and whooping cough.
A bacterial infection known as streptococcus pyogenes is usually the primary cause of strep throat, which is another form of sore throat.
Strep throat would usually resolve on its own. However, a doctor would prescribe antibiotics in order to prevent serious complications such as rheumatic fever. Other medical conditions that may result in experiencing sore throats include allergies, dry indoor air, outdoor or indoor air pollution, muscle strains, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), HIV infection, or tumours (on the tongue, throat or voice box).
On rare occasions, abscess in the throat or swelling of the cartilage “lid” that covers the windpipe (called the epiglottis) may cause a sore throat. Both situations can cause a blocking of the airway, resulting in a medical emergency.
What Factors Will Put You at Risk?
Almost anyone is at risk of getting a sore throat (pharyngitis). However, some factors can make you more prone to developing one compared to others. One of the main factors involved is age. Children and teens are more likely to suffer from sore throats. Similarly, children of ages 3-15 years old are more prone to suffer from strep throat.
Another factor that puts people at risk is exposure to tobacco smoke or chemical irritants. Tobacco smoke exposure also increases the risk of mouth, throat and voice box cancer.
Allergic reactions to dust, mold or pet dander can also make you prone to developing a sore throat.
Similarly, a sinus infection can either irritate your throat or spread an infection. An immune system that has been weakened due to a critical illness such as human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) or diabetes, treatment for cancer using steroids or chemotherapy, stress, fatigue, and an unhealthy diet can result in the possibility of developing a sore throat as well.
So How Can We Prevent Sore Throats?
Environmental and lifestyle factors are the primary causes of sore throats. Thus, the focus of preventive measures should be geared towards the practice of good hygiene and avoidance of germs.
Start by ensuring that you wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before eating, after sneezing or coughing. For the same purpose, opt to use alcohol-based sanitisers as an alternative should you be in a position where hand-washing is not an accessible option.
Additionally, try as best as possible to avoid sharing food, drinking glasses or utensils. You should also avoid contact with public phones or drinking from water fountains, as well as physical contact with sick people.
Also, remember to regularly clean bacteria dwelling hubs such as telephones, TV remotes and computer keyboards.
Can a Sore Throat Be Remedied?
Unfortunately, there are currently no known remedies for sore throats which precipitate from viral infections. However, there are a few treatment methods which can help alleviate the restlessness and pain.
One of the easiest remedies for sore throat is to drink warm liquids that soothe the throat, such as hot tea with honey, or soup. If you prefer a cooler alternative, opt for a cold treat such as a popsicle or ice cream.
You can also suck on a lozenge or use a throat spray to numb the pain temporarily. However, avoid giving lozenges to children with sore throats. There are also a few home remedies that you can practice as well. This includes gargling a mixture of warm water and salt, turning on a cool mist humidifier, or reduce speaking.
Over-the-counter pain-relief medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen to treat sore throat pain are also available.
Providing 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 this may result in an increase of congestion in the nasal passage.
Never use antibiotics to treat a sore throat caused by a virus. This is because it is only effective against bacteria, which usually causes strep throat.
What Should You Do if Your Sore Throat Persists?
If you seem to have a persistent sore throat, seek medical consultation immediately. If a doctor suspects you have strep throat, they will use a throat culture to help diagnose the condition.
A throat culture involves the running of a swab over the back of your throat to test for bacteria. The sample will then be sent for lab testing, with the results obtainable within a couple of days.
There are times when more than a single test is required to identify the cause of your sore throat. In these situations, see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist who will be able to provide you with the right diagnosis.
*This article is produced for and sponsored by iNova Pharmaceuticals (Singapore) Pte Limited Malaysian Branch
Review Date: February 28, 2020 | Last Modified: February 28, 2020
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