Sore throats bring pain and misery, and make swallowing difficult. They may indicate the onset of a cold or other illness such as strep throat, or occur as the result of strained vocal cords. In most cases, symptoms disappear in a matter of days without medical intervention.
Symptoms & Causes
The primary symptom of a sore throat is pain, scratchiness, and irritation. It’s typically worse when you swallow or speak. Other symptoms may include dry throat, hoarseness, swollen neck or jaw glands, and swollen tonsils. Other signs and symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, runny nose, sneezing, headache, body aches, and nausea or vomiting, might be present.
The majority of sore throats are caused by viruses such as colds, flu, mononucleosis, measles, chickenpox, and croup. Bacterial infections (e.g. strep throat, whooping cough, diphtheria) are less common but do occasionally produce sore throats. Other causes include allergies, dry air, outdoor and indoor pollution, strained vocal cord muscles, acid reflux, HIV infection, and tumors.
Treatment & Prevention
Most sore throats clear up on their own in a few days, making medical treatment unnecessary. Home remedies to soothe pain and discomfort are often all you’ll need. Gargling with warm salt water, drinking lots of fluids, and sucking on throat lozenges or cough drops all help to relieve irritation. Over-the-counter pain medications provide additional relief.
Sore throats caused by bacterial infections require antibiotics for treatment. Penicillin is most commonly prescribed. You’ll need to continue the full course of treatment, even if symptoms have subsided, in order to ensure the infection doesn’t worsen.
The best prevention for sore throats is to practice good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, avoid contact with people who are sick, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, do not share drinking glasses or eating utensils, stay indoors when pollution levels are high, use a humidifier to keep the air in your home from drying out, quit smoking and/or avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.