Medically known as pharyngitis, a sore throat is a very commonly occurring inflammation of the throat or the pharynx that is often experienced as dryness, scratchiness, soreness, hoarseness and / or swelling of the tonsils accompanied by pain during swallowing, breathing and speaking. Fever and coughing often go hand-in-hand with sore throats.
Causes of a Sore Throat
A sore throat, in and of itself, is not a disease but rather a symptom of another medical condition. As a matter of fact, much of the time, a sore throat is the first symptom of an individual’s ailment.
In an overwhelming majority of instances (at least 60%), sore throats are caused by viral infections such as those leading up to the common cold; influenza (the flu); mononucleosis (mono); measles; chickenpox; croup; and herpes simplex.
Secondary viral infections such as oral thrush or cytomegalovirus usually occur in people with weakened immune systems such as those who are HIV positive.
The remaining (approximately) 40% of all sore throat occurrences are triggered or caused by a wide range of reasons which include but are not limited to:
- 1. Bacterial or fungal infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis, diphtheria or a variety of other respiratory illnesses.
- 2. Environmental exposure to chemicals or other irritating pollutants such as smoke (especially tobacco smoke) and vapor (dry or moist). Excessive intake of alcohol and spicy foods can also cause irritated and sore throats.
- 3. Allergies – Adverse and allergic reactions to pollen, dust, pet dander, mold and other allergens.
- 4. Dry and hot air as well as breathing through the mouth due to stuffed nasal passages.
- 5. Straining of the vocal cords and the muscles in the throat due to abuse and overuse caused by yelling, speaking too much or whispering too long.
- 6. Digestive or gastric condition such as acid gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) will irritate the throat with the stomach acids which are backed-up into the esophagus (the food pipe).
- 7. Cancerous or non-cancerous tumors of the throat, tongue and / or voice box.
- 8. Oral sex
Symptoms of a Sore Throat and Serious Warning Signs
Most often, a sore throat merely leads to discomfort which will soon dissipate with no medical intervention. However, sore throats may also point to more serious health conditions, particularly when the symptoms include patches of pus within the throat and / or on the tonsils along with swelling and redness; the inability to swallow; long-lasting, persistent and severe pain in the throat; difficulty breathing; hoarseness; unrelenting headaches; high fevers; nausea and vomiting as well as skin rashes anywhere on the body.
Treating a Sore Throat
Most sore throats will go away after just a few days. However, to avoid dehydration during that time, an increased dose of non-caffeinated and non-alcoholic fluids such as water, soups, broths and juices are recommended along with more bed rest and sleep. When swallowing is too painful, sipping through a straw or sucking on ice cubes may be helpful.
Additional remedies which may relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of a sore throat are: gargling with warm salt water; drinking warm water with honey and lemon; sucking on hard candy, cough drops or throat lozenges; adding moisture to dry indoor air by operating a humidifier; and by resting the voice.
Sore throats that are more severe and which have been medically diagnosed as being bacterial will often require antibiotics for curative purposes as well as for the prevention of more serious complications.