What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is pain, discomfort, or irritation in the throat that makes it painful to swallow. Sore throats are common.
What causes a sore throat?
Most sore throats are caused by viruses, but throats can also become sore as a result of:
- Bacterial infections, such as Strep throats
- Air conditioning
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- HIV infection
- Smoke, pollution, or other air irritants
- Yelling, talking, or singing too much.
Sometimes it is easy to identify the cause. Viral sore throats are generally accompanied by cold symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, or a cough. Sore throats caused by pollutants generally get better once the person extracts themselves from the cause - whether it be smoking or bad air.
Bacterial sore throats tend to come on quickly and are more likely to affect children rather than adults. They are common in children aged five to fifteen years, but rare in children under the age of three and have a higher chance of complications and generally require more attention than other sore throat causes. Although many different types of bacteria can cause a sore throat, Streptococcus pyrogenes bacteria, a type of Group A streptococci, are the most seen. Sore throats caused by S. pyrogenes are referred to as Strep throats.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
Symptoms of a sore throat can vary depending on the cause and may include:
- Pain or a burning sensation in the back of the throat
- Difficulty swallowing or increased pain when swallowing
- Red, swollen tonsils
- Swollen and sore glands in the neck or jaw
- White patches or pus on the tonsils.
If an infection is the cause of the sore throat, other symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, or headache may also be present.
Generally, Strep sore throats tend to be very painful and symptoms persist for a lot longer than sore throats due to a virus or another cause. Swallowing may be particularly difficult.
Other symptoms that are more likely to occur with a Strep throat include:
- A very red and swollen-looking throat and tonsils; sometimes streaks of pus or red spots on the roof of the mouth are visible
- Fever and Chills
- Swollen and tender glands (lymph nodes) in the neck
- Vomiting or nausea (mostly in children).
Some people are susceptible to the toxins (poisons) produced by the S. pyrogenes bacteria and develop a bright red rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch. A rash caused by S. pyrogenes bacteria is known as Scarlet Fever (also called scarlatina). Scarlet fever is more likely to develop in children over the age of three at preschool or people exposed to overcrowded environments such as boarding schools or military camps.
Rheumatic fever can also develop following a Strep throat infection or scarlet fever. Rheumatic fever has the potential to cause life-long cardiac problems if not treated promptly or properly and it can also affect the joints, skin, and the brain.
Symptoms of rheumatic fever include:
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain or shortness of breath
- Joint swelling, pain, redness, or warmth
- Nose bleeds
- A rash on the upper part of the arms or legs (usually ring-shaped or snake-like
- Skin nodules or lumps.
In young children, symptoms may include unusual crying or laughing or quick jerky movements of the face, hands, or feet.
How is a sore throat diagnosed?
See your doctor if your child has a persistent sore throat or for adults, if a sore throat lasts for longer than two days, is very painful, or you can see white patches or pus on the back of the throat. Other reasons to see your doctor include a fine sandpaper-like pink rash on your skin or difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Your doctor will examine your neck and lymph nodes and may take a swab of your throat if Strep throat is suspected.
How is a sore throat treated?
Sore throats caused by a viral infection or pollutants don’t usually require medical treatment although sucking lozenges can help ease the pain.
Treatments for a sore throat may include:
- Anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, or antiseptic lozenges
- Oral pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Antibiotics, if a Strep throat is diagnosed
- Saltwater gargles
- Lemon and honey warm drinks, tea
- Cool liquids or ice blocks to help numb the throat
- Apple cider vinegar
- Marshmallow root
- Slippery elm.