A sore throat can make swallowing, eating and drinking uncomfortable if not downright painful. Although a sore throat is a common ailment, especially it seems during these winter months, it’s important to know how to treat it and when to see a physician.
What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is pain, irritation and scratchiness of the throat that is caused by a virus, usually the same virus that causes colds and flu. A sore throat can also make the throat feel swollen and make it difficult to eat or drink.
Some Symptoms of a Sore Throat
- Scratchiness and pain in the throat
- Trouble swallowing
- Sore glands on either side of the throat
- Trouble talking, pain increases with talking
In most cases, a sore throat will resolve itself over the course of a few days or at the most, a week.
Is it strep?
A sore throat is caused by a virus. Strep throat, on the other hand, is a bacterial infection. It can be difficult to differentiate between the two as some of the symptoms can be the same, as listed above. Time is the most important indicator of which type of illness is causing the symptoms.
- A sore throat usually resolves itself in a couple of days.
- Strep throat can last much longer and causes more painful symptoms.
- Strep throat can be accompanied by fever and general aches and pains.
- Even though it is normal for a sore throat to last up to a week, if it lasts more than a couple of days it’s important to see a doctor so that tests can rule out strep.
Four tips to treat a sore throat
The majority of the time a sore throat can be treated successfully at home with simple remedies.
- Gargle: This old remedy is effective in treating a sore throat. Physicians recommend it regularly and clinical studies show it can be effective in preventing colds and relieving the symptoms of a sore throat.
One randomized clinical study1 involved 387 adults aged 18 to 65 years and analyzed whether gargling with salt water could prevent contracting a cold. Participants were requested to gargle with salt and water three times a day or more for 60 days. One hundred and thirty participants contracted an upper respiratory infection (URI). The study found that of those who did contract a URI, gargling tended to ease bronchial symptoms.
Add ¼ teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm or cold water, depending upon your preference, and gargle with it to soothe the throat, loosen mucus and reduce swelling.
- Keep the throat moist: This can be done in several ways. A humidifier that adds moisture to the air in the home can help to prevent the throat from becoming dry and more painful. Drinking warm liquids frequently can moisten the throat and reduce pain. Tea or broth are good remedies because they can be soothing. Depending upon personal preference, cold liquids can be soothing as well, including frozen ice pops and popsicles.
- Pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers can relieve the discomfort and pain that can accompany a sore throat. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are effective pain relievers. Do not give pain relievers to a child with a sore throat without first checking with your physician.
- Rest: A sore throat is an infection and resting will help the body to fight it. It’s especially helpful to rest the voice and avoid putting pressure on the throat.
Ways to prevent getting a sore throat
The best way to prevent getting a sore throat is to remain as healthy as possible and avoid picking up the germs that cause it. The best strategies are as follows:
- Wash your hands: Hand washing is the number one way to avoid the spread of disease and illness-causing germs. Wash your hands frequently and teach your children to do the same. Hand sanitizers or soap and water will remove germs from the hands.
- Clean: It’s a good idea to clean objects that are used near the mouth and nose, i.e., telephones. Other items that should be cleaned regularly include computer keyboards, headsets, TV remotes, doorknobs, and cabinet knobs.
- Don’t share: Although we teach our children to share, sharing glasses, forks and knives is not a good idea. Teach your children not to share these things, or food, in order to avoid contracting germs and illness. Do not share tissues with others.
A sore throat can be contracted at any time of year. They are uncomfortable to say the least and can make life difficult for at least a couple of days. If you contract a sore throat and it doesn’t resolve itself in a couple of days, call your ENT.