Understanding sore throat

Sore throat is a common condition characterised by painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat. It is more prevalent during the cold months.
Understanding sore throat

CHENNAI: Sore throat is a common condition characterised by a painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat. It is more prevalent during the cold months. Although sore throats are uncomfortable, they often go away on their own.

Tonsilitis: It is the redness and swelling of the soft tissue in the back of the mouth, called the tonsils.
Pharyngitis: Soreness and swelling in the throat is called pharyngitis.

Laryngitis: When there is swelling and redness of the larynx or the voice box.

The most common reason for getting a sore throat is cold or flu. Common cold is less harmful and severe than flu. Other reasons why a sore throat may develop include:

Pollution: Smoking or chemicals like aerosolised sprays in the form of air fresheners can cause a sore throat. Poor air quality can also irritate the throat.

Allergies: Allergy-causing factors such as pollen, grass, pet dander (small pieces of skin shed by animals) may trigger the immune system to release chemicals that cause sore throat.

Overuse: Repeated use of the voice box in a vigorous form like yelling or shouting, strains the vocal chords and muscles in the throat, leading to hoarseness and a sore throat.

Strep throat and other bacterial infections: The most common bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. It causes infection of the throat and tonsils.

Symptoms may vary depending on the causative factor. It may feel
• Dry
• Scratchy
• Burning
• Raw
• Tender
• Irritated

Along with sore throat, some other symptoms may also be manifest like
• Runny nose
• Fever
• Coughing
• Sneezing
• Headache
• Trouble swallowing

The diagnosis is a two-fold process a physical examination and throat culture.

Physical examination: Your healthcare practitioner may use a lighted instrument to examine the throat, ears, and nasal passage. The neck region may be gently felt to rule out swollen glands (lymph nodes).
Throat culture: A throat culture is usually done if strep throat is suspected. For this, a swab is taken from the back of the throat and the collected sample is tested for strep throat bacteria. A rapid test usually gives the result within minutes. To confirm the diagnosis, the sample is sent to a laboratory.

Sore throat caused by a viral infection usually lasts five to seven days. It generally doesn’t require a medical intervention. For symptoms associated with the sore throat such as fever and pain, there are antipyretics (medication to reduce fever) and other mild pain relievers. However, if the sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, a full antibiotic course should be taken. The medication should not be left in between even if the symptoms are gone. Failure to adhere to the full antibiotic course may lead to development of rheumatic fever or serious kidney inflammation in children.

Although it is not always possible to avoid sore throat from developing, it can be prevented following certain measures.
• Washing of hands regularly with soap and water.
• Avoiding direct contact with people having respiratory distress such as colds and sore throat.
• Quitting smoking.
• Staying away from second hand smoking and air pollution.

When should you see a doctor
Sore throats caused by a viral infection usually get better on their own within a week’s time. However, in some cases the sore throat needs to be treated if it exhibits serious symptoms. Some serious repercussions are:
• Trouble swallowing.
• Painful or stiff neck.
• Difficulty opening your mouth.
• Fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Presence of blood in saliva or phlegm.
• Sore throat that lasts more than a week.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we get a sore throat?
Sore throats are often part of a cold that comes along with fever, runny nose, and cough. It is also a sign of bacterial throat infection such as a strep throat. It may also manifest itself as a symptom of an underlying disease like sinusitis. Several factors like smoking, allergies and overstraining of voice can also lead to a sore throat.

Can you treat a sore throat with antibiotics? Sore throats of bacterial origin can be treated with antibiotics. These antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections leading to sore throats.

What is the difference between a viral throat infection and a bacterial throat infection?
Viral throat infections happen due to various viruses entering the body and attacking the throat region. Some examples are common cold and flu. On the other hand, a bacterial infection develops due to person-to-person contact. It can be transmitted through saliva while kissing or sneezing. While viral infections do not respond to antibiotics, bacterial infections can be treated with the same.

Can you treat a sore throat at home?
In most cases, a sore throat disappears without the need for any treatment or by following a few home remedies. Some of these home remedies include:
• Gargling with warm water to which half a teaspoon of salt has been added.
• Drinking warm liquids such as soups and hot tea with honey.
• Sucking on a lozenge.
• Resting your voice until your throat seems better.
The writer is a consultant, Department of Internal Medicine, Critical Care & Diabetology

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express