A sore throat can strike at any time, whether it’s the height of cold and flu season or the middle of summer. While most sore throats are caused by the common cold, others may be due to a more serious condition. Though it’s uncomfortable, most sore throats are due to a viral infection and often do not require the use of antibiotics. With congestion from a cold, nasal breathing can dry out the throat, worsening throat discomfort.
Although it’s less common, a sore throat can be due to other causes that sometimes require medical intervention. A lingering severe sore throat could be due to one these most likely culprits:
The Common Cold (Viral Pharyngitis)
Given we’re surrounded by viruses on trains and buses, at the mall, and in the office, no matter how often we wash our hands we can still get sick. Symptoms of the common cold include sore throat, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and cough. Most colds last three to seven days, and generally speaking, resolve themselves on their own and don’t require medical treatment.
Unlike the common cold, strep throat is caused by the streptococcus bacteria and needs a doctor’s treatment, usually in the form of antibiotics. Strep throat symptoms can feel similar to those of a cold, but they also include a fever and swollen tonsils.
Strep throat is the cause of about 25 percent of sore throats in children and 10 percent in adults. A throat culture is usually ordered by your doctor to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat before prescribing antibiotics.
Allergies may be another sore throat culprit. Allergies cause nasal stuffiness, which can lead to mouth breathing, and ultimately to a dry mouth and throat. Postnasal drainage can also contribute to your cough and sore throat.
Although the symptoms of a sore throat caused by allergies and a sore throat caused by a cold are similar, there are some clues that can help you distinguish between the two. Allergies are usually present seasonally for several weeks at a time and are due to the body’s reaction to allergens, not to viruses. Allergens can also cause itchy, watery eyes and rashes. If these symptoms accompany your chronic sore throat, ask your doctor about being tested for allergies.
A Climate With Overly Dry Air
Some people may experience sore throats from breathing air that’s too dry, usually when visiting a particularly dry climate or when indoor humidity falls too low during dry winter months. Generally speaking, however, this won’t bother you if you tend to breathe through your nose, as the nose moisturizes incoming air. If you have accompanying nasal congestion and find yourself mouth breathing, sore throats could ensue.
In some cases, a lingering sore throat may be the result of acid reflux. A sore throat can come from inflammation from acid refluxing from the esophagus into the upper region of the throat. This can be detected on the ear, nose, and throat exam through the use of a flexible scope.
Sore Throat Home Treatment Options
Regardless of the cause, the same simple remedies can help soothe a sore throat. These include:
- Use a humidifier, especially when in a particularly dry climate like the mountains or desert.
- Drink tea with honey and lemon: A warm cup of herbal tea can offer immediate, soothing relief for a sore throat. What’s more, non-herbal teas—whether they’re made with black, green, or white leaves—contain antioxidants that are thought to strengthen immunity and ward off infection. Add a teaspoon of honey & a squeeze of lemon. They have antibacterial properties that may help you heal faster.
- Gargle with warm salt water: dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water. If the salty taste is too unpleasant for you, try adding a small amount of honey to sweeten the mixture slightly. (Just remember to spit the water out after gargling, rather than swallowing!)
- Stay well-hydrated: You should be drinking enough fluid so that your urine is light yellow or clear. This keeps your mucous membranes moist and better able to combat bacteria and irritants like allergens, and makes your body better able to fight back against other cold symptoms
- Avoid smoky environments
- Suck on cough drops to stimulate saliva production, which can help keep your throat moist. For an added benefit, choose brands with a cooling or numbing ingredient, like menthol or eucalyptus.
- Anti-inflammatories: an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as Advil or Aleve.
- Cough Syrup: Even if you don’t have a cough (yet), over-the-counter cough syrups can help ease soreness. Like drops and sprays, they coat the throat and provide temporary pain relief. If you’re headed to work, be sure to choose a non-drowsy formula.
Chicken Broth: An age-old home remedy for colds, chicken broth can help soothe a sore throat, as well. The sodium in the broth may actually have anti-inflammatory properties, and it can feel good going down. And since eating can be painful and difficult with a swollen or very sore throat, sipping some liquid nourishment will ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need to fight off your infection.
- Rest: Rest may not be the quickest solution, but getting some rest is probably the best thing you can do to battle the infection that caused your sore throat in the first place.
Your achy throat will usually resolves itself, but if it is accompanied by a fever or swollen glands, seek medical care for a strep-throat culture and possibly antibiotics. Keep in mind that if your sore throat lasts longer than a week or you have additional unusual or severe symptoms (such as difficulty swallowing or breathing) you should see a doctor to rule out anything serious.