Sore throats are a common ailment that can be painful and annoying, but seldom serious in nature. Most sore throats are caused by minor illnesses that go away with minimal treatment.
- Viral infections, such as a common cold, mononucleosis, mumps, or influenza.
- Bacterial infection such as strep throat, is often not accompanied by throat congestion or cough.
- Tonsillitis and adenoiditis
- Peritonsillar abscess, an infection that affects the tissues around the tonsils
- Epiglottitis, an inflammation of the epiglottis
- Uvulitis, an inflammation of the uvula
- Sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea
- Chronic throat irritation from yelling, smoking, low humidity, air pollution, postnasal drip (nasal drainage at the back of the throat)
- Chronic breathing through the mouth in persons who have stuffy nose and allergies
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes stomach acid to go back up into the throat
- An injury such as a cut/puncture in the throat
- Chronic fatigue syndrome, which is associated with extreme tiredness.
A rare cause of one-sided throat pain is glossopharyngeal neuralgia, which is caused by an irritation of the 9th cranial nerve. It causes a sudden intense electric shock-like pain at the back of the throat, which can be triggered by chewing, swallowing, talking, yawning, coughing, or laughing. Some people experience a feeling of a sharp object stuck in the throat. The exact cause is not known, but it may be associated with throat cancer. The tongue and ear are also affected. Symptoms can last for several days or weeks, with long remissions. Attacks later occur more frequently.
A persistent sore throat that is associated with a lump that does not heal may be a symptom of throat cancer, which may involve the tonsils, the voice box or the pharynx. Other signs and symptoms may include cough, hoarseness, ear pain, difficulty swallowing, and weight loss.
The treatment for sore throat depends on the cause. In most cases, home treatments can help obtain relief. Viral infections are the most common cause and they may be relieved by gargling with warm solution of salt and water, drinking warm water, tea or broth, or eating ice cream. Use a humidifier to increase moisture in dry air. Rest and drink plenty of fluids to promote early recovery.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen can help soothe a sore throat and reduce fever. Antibiotics are not necessary for viral infections. You can also use throat lozenges, decongestants, cough medicine and antihistamines as necessary. If your sore throat is caused by strep, a bacterial infection, then you will require antibiotic treatment.
Consult your doctor for further evaluation and treatment if your symptoms do not go away after two weeks, if you have new symptoms or if they become worse even with treatment. Signs and symptoms that should prompt you to seek immediate treatment include:
- High fever (> 38.3 C or 101 F)
- Severe sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing saliva/liquids
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Severe neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Swelling of the neck
- Blood in your saliva or phlegm
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