Sore Throat: When it Becomes a Sign of Something Serious?

A sore throat is a common but nonetheless annoying and uncomfortable occurrence. In many cases, sore throats are caused by viral infections, often related to the common cold or flu. Although this may be the most common cause, multiple health conditions may play a role in having an itchy, irritated and painful throat. If you have persistent throat pain, it could be a sign of something more serious that you should look into.

A sore throat can result in many forms- it can be scratchy or itchy, hoarse, burn, or painful when swallowing. Many common colds and viruses can cause a sore throat that typically subsides within a few days. But when a sore throat prolongs its stay and you can’t find relief, it’s better to talk to your doctor for a diagnosis. A severe sore throat may be an indication of possible strep throat, a bacterial infection. A sore throat is considered chronic when it lasts for more than three months.

Some possible factors that can cause chronic or a long-lasting sore throat include:

  • Strep throat
  • Tonsillitis(infection of the tonsils)
  • Allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Mononucleosis (also referred to as mono)
  • Environmental irritants
  • Influenza(the flu)
  • Strained vocal cords
  • Smoking
  • Inhaling through the mouth instead of the nose
  • Tonsil stones (food debris that gets stuck in the tonsils resulting in inflammation and irritation)

For throat pain that persists beyond three weeks and is accompanied by difficulty swallowing or weight loss, visit a doctor to rule out any severe health conditions.

A prolonged throat pain on one side — or that feels worse on one side — may indicate a bacterial infection that usually begins as a complication of tonsillitis or untreated strep throat (peritonsillar abscess). In some cases, the pain may indicate an advanced tumour or other serious condition like HIV.

How to Treat a Sore Throat

To successfully treat a sore throat, you have to know what’s causing it. Bacterial infections like strep throat can be treated with antibiotics. It’s crucial that you receive treatment for strep and don’t let it continue. This type of bacterial infection can lead to rheumatic fever, which can cause permanent heart damage. Taking a prescription for a simple course of antibiotics can keep strep throat from becoming a serious problem. Remember to complete the course and take all the medicines.

For viral infections, like influenza, they can be treated with antiviral medication. However, most do not require any treatment at all.

If the reason behind your chronic sore throat is allergies, you can get a prescription for medication to control allergy symptoms.

Tips to Find Relieve from Throat Pain

If you have a persistent sore throat that isn’t due to an infection, you can take steps at home to soothe an itchy, scratchy, painful throat. Here are some ways you can try to find relief from symptoms of a sore throat.

  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Try adding honey to a warm drink or sip on a mug of warm tea.
  • Suck on something soothing, like a piece of hard candy, or a throat lozenge.
  • Try using a neti pot or bulb syringe to irrigate your nasal passages.
  • Run a humidifier if the air in your house is dry.
  • Create a mixture of warm water and 1 teaspoon of salt per cup and gargle it a couple of times per day.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Use in moderation and only for a short period of time.
  • Give yourself a steam treatment (breathing steam from a bowl of hot water or in the shower).
  • Drink warm liquids such as broths, teas or warm water mixed in with honey and lemon.
  • Limit exposure or remove allergens from your environment.

For more severe conditions like an advanced infection or peritonsillar abscess, you may have to be hospitalized to receive antibiotics through a vein. In some cases, an abscessed tonsil requires surgery. Chronically swollen tonsils that impair breathing or sleeping may need to be surgically removed.

Usually, a persistent sore throat can go away on its own within a few days to a week, depending on its cause and treatment. But if it doesn’t get any better, you can be sure there’s some reason for it. If the sore throat is accompanied by symptoms such as severe pain on swallowing along with a high fever, it’s best to consult your doctor as soon as possible.