Sore Throat is one of the most common winter illnesses. It is a pain, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat and goes away on its own usually. Sore throat accounts for more than 13 million visits to doctor's offices each year only in the USA.
1. Sore Throat Causes
A cause of a sore throat can be an infection or an injury. Here are the most common sore throat causes.
Viral Infections - Around 70% of sore throats are caused by viral infections. They are,
Influenza or flu by Influenza virus
Croup - Caused by Parainfluezna virus, inflames the larynx and trachea in children
Mononucleosis – An Infectious disease caused by Epstein-Barr virus, transmit through saliva
Measles – Illness that causes rash and fever
Chickenpox – Infection that causes fever and itchy, bumpy rashes
Mumps – Infection caused by mumps virus, causes swelling of the salivary glands in the neck
Herpangina - Caused by Coxsackie A virus
Bacterial Infections - The remaining 30% of sore throats are caused by bacterial infections.
Strep throat – An infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like gonorrhoea and chlamydia can also cause a sore throat.
Allergies - When a person with less immune system reacts to allergens such as pollen, grass, pet dander, they may experience nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing and also throat irritation. Other factors that irritate throat include tobacco smoke, breathing through mouth, air pollution, cleaning products and ingestion of certain substances like bleach.
Dry Air - During winters, the air is most likely dry. When you inhale dry air, it sucks moisture from the mouth and throat, and brings you a scratchy throat.
Trauma/Injury - Any direct injury to the throat or neck, getting a piece of foreign substance like a piece of food stuck in throat, strain on vocal cards and muscles in throat (yelling, talking loudly, singing for hours, etc.) cause a sore throat.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - In GERD, the reflux of acids from stomach into the esophagus – transporter of food from mouth to stomach - causes sore throat and heartburn.
Tumour - A tumour of the throat, larynx, or tongue is a serious but a less common cause of sore throat. Because it does not go away after a few days.
2. Sore Throat Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms can vary depending on what caused sore throat. A sore throat is often a symptom that you may have an infection in the area of throat. Sore throat symptoms generally include pain, burning or scratching sensation at the back of the throat and pain when swallowing. Signs include a hoarse voice.
Other sore throat signs and symptoms may be accompanied by
Swollen glands in the neck/swollen lymph nodes
White patches or areas of pus on the tonsils in strep throat (exudate)
3. Sore Throat Types
Based on the affected part of throat, sore throats are classified into
Pharyngitis – Affects the area right behind the mouth.
Tonsillitis – Swelling and redness of the tonsils (the soft tissue in the back of the mouth).
Laryngitis – Swelling and redness of the voice box, or larynx.
4. Sore Throat Home Remedies
There are lots of sore throat home remedies out there, with which you can soothe your sore throat.
Warm saltwater gargling
Drinking warm liquids such as tea, soups, etc. Avoiding very hot drinks.
Using humidifiers to add some moisture to the air
Taking rest till you feel normal throat
Having frozen foods
5. Sore Throat Medicines
Take over-the-counter medications given below to relive the pain of a sore throat.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), aspirin, a sore throat spray, throat lozenges, cough syrup, etc. Note that children and teenagers should never take aspirin.
6. Diagnosing Sore Throat
Differentiating a sore throat caused by a virus and a strep throat caused by bacteria is difficult. The following observations could often help you to distinguish both infections.
Individual with strep throat have read swollen tonsils with white patches (exudate), fever and swollen tender lymph nodes in the neck.
Individual with sore throat have a cold, cough, runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing.
As this distinction is not always present, you may meet a health-care professional to confirm the diagnosis. Only a throat culture (swab taken from the back of the throat) can definitively diagnose a strep throat then.
7. Is a Sore Throat Contagious?
Through saliva, nasal secretions, direct contact with infected objects and infected surfaces can transmit sore throat infection from a person to person. Prevention measures such as frequent hand washing or good hygiene, covering mouth when coughing, etc can avoid transmission.
8. See a Doctor
Within a few days, most sore throats get better on their own. But bacterial infections like a strep throat need an antibiotic treatment. If you have any of the following severe symptoms, seek medical care.
Severe sore throat that lasts for more than a week
Trouble swallowing saliva or liquids
Difficult to breath
Difficult to open mouth
Fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 degree Celsius
Severe neck pain or neck stiffness
Blood in saliva or phlegm