A sore throat is one of the most common complaints of people who visit a health professional. A dry and itchy throat usually signals the onset of a virus, the flu or a cold.
Sore throats are usually caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold and the flu (influenza). A sore throat may also be caused by other viral infections such as mononucleosis, measles, chicken pox, and croup. If the cause of a sore throat is not viral, then it may be the result of a infection from streptococcal bacteria or tonsillitis.
In cases other than viral and bacterial infections, a sore throat may develop due to an allergy, dryness, pollution and other irritants, yelling, reflux, HIV infection, and tumours.
Children tend to suffer more from sore throats than adults.
Signs and symptoms
A sore throat arising from a viral infection is often accompanied by dry, scratchy, itchy or swollen throat and pain when swallowing, breathing or talking. On the other hand, a streptococcal or bacterial infection of the throat can result in abscess in the throat or tonsils, vomiting, inability to swallow, skin rash, headache, swollen tonsils and very high fever.
There is no known cure for sore throats that are caused by viral infections and antibiotics are neither useful nor effective in treating them. The virus usually goes away on its own without medical treatment. There is some debate, however, in the case of bacterial or strep throat as to whether this should be treated by antibiotics because of the alarming increase of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.
You can treat the symptoms of your sore throat by simple home remedies such as gargling with a warm saltwater solution, and sipping warm tea mixed with honey and lemon. Using a vaporiser or humidifier also alleviates symptoms of your sore throat by adding moisture to the air which keeps your throat from feeling dry. You should also increase your fluid intake by drinking more water, juice, tea or warm soup.
If your sore throat is caused by an allergy or air pollutants, you should avoid exposure to smoke and chemical pollutants such as those in laundry detergents and cleaners. There are some herbs that help relieve the symptoms of sore throat, including liquorice root, marshmallow root, honeysuckle flowers, barberry, eucalyptus, chamomile, and slippery elm. Taking Echinacea at the early stages of a sore throat can reduce recovery time.
Sore throats can be avoided by implementing some simple hygiene measures, including frequent and thorough hand washing, not sharing utensils, and disinfecting surfaces of commonly used items like the telephone and door knobs.
Viruses can be very contagious, so avoiding people who are unwell is best, particularly if your immune system has been compromised.
If you have a persistent or recurring sore throat, it could be an indicator of a more serious illness, and you should consult your health care professional who will instigate further investigation of the causes and recommend the appropriate treatment.
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