Viruses or bacteria are the main cause of sore throats. When suffering from a flare up from allergies or having a sinus infection can also be a source for a sore throat. If the sore throat condition lasts more than seven days, call your Otolaryngologist to make an appointment.

What causes a sore throat?

Infections by contagious viruses or bacteria are the primary source of having a sore throat.Sore throats often accompany the flu, colds, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, and croup. The virus may lodge in the lymph system, causing massive enlargement of the tonsils with white patches on the tonsil’s surface. Other symptoms include swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and groin; fever, chills and headache andtalking and breathing are more difficult.  If suffering from mono, you will likely experience a severe sore throat that may last for one to four weeks and sometimes with serious breathing difficulties.

Strep throat is an infection caused by a particular strain of streptococcus bacteria. This infection can also damage heart valves (rheumatic fever) and kidneys (nephritis), can cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections. Symptoms of strep throat often include a fever greater than 101°F, white draining patches on the throat and lymph glands in the neck which are swollen and tender.

Tonsillitis is an infection of the lumpy-appearing lymphatic tissues on each side of the back of the throat.Infections in the nose and sinuses can cause sore throats because mucus from the nose drains and carries the infection down into the throat.

The most dangerous throat infection is epiglottitis, which infects a portion of the larynx (voice box) and causes swelling that closes the airway. Epiglottitis is an emergency condition that requires prompt medical attention. Suspect it when swallowing is extremely painful and may cause drooling, when speech is muffled and when breathing becomes difficult. Epiglottitis may not be obvious just by looking in the mouth and a strep test may overlook this infection.

Allergy reaction to pollens and molds such as cat and dog dander and house dust are common causes of sore throats.Certain reaction to dry heat, having a chronic stuffy nose, exposure to pollutants and chemicals and straining your voice can also irritate your throat.  Acid reflux or a regurgitation of stomach acids up into the back of the throat can cause a sore throat.  The existence of tumors in the throat and larynx (voice box) can cause a sore throat that includes radiating pain that extends to the ear and possible difficulty when swallowing. Other important symptoms can include hoarseness, noisy breathing, a lump in the neck, unexplained weight loss and blood in the saliva or phlegm.

When to call your Otolaryngologist

See your physician whenever a sore throat is severe and persists longer than seven days or the following signs and symptoms exist:

  • Lump in neck
  • Severe and prolonged sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Earache
  • Fever (over 101°)
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Hoarseness lasting over two weeks
  • Joint pain
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Rash

Your physician will base the treatment on the severity of your symptoms and the appearance of your throat upon examination.  A throat culture is required to test for strep throat, it is a non-surgical procedure that uses an instrument to take a sampling of the infected cells. Because the culture will not detect other infections, when it is negative, other tests may be required.

Things to do to prevent a sore throat

Avoid smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke. Primary or secondary tobacco smoke have toxic chemicals that irritate the throat lining.

Keep your allergies under control with the prescribed regimen your physician instructed. If you have ongoing or seasonal allergic reactions, you are more likely to develop a sore throat than people who don’t have allergies.

Avoid exposure to chemical irritants.  Being around common household chemicals can cause throat irritation.  If your job includes exposure to the burning of fossil fuels, use safety precautions.

Maintain good hygiene, Wash your hands regularly with soap or a sanitizing gel, for 10-15 seconds.

Do not share napkins, towels and eating utensils with an infected person.

Things that might help a mild sore throat which is associated with having a cold or flu:

Increase your liquid intake
Warm tea with honey
Use a steamer or humidifier in your bedroom
Gargle with warm salt water several times daily; ½ cup water with ½ teaspoon of salt
Take over-the-counter pain relievers

Penicillin is prescribed when streptococcal or another bacterial infection is suspected by the physician.Other types of bacterial throat infections require other types of antibiotics.  Even though antibiotics do not cure viral infections, viruseslower the resistance to bacterial infections and thus when such infection occur, antibiotics may be recommended. Some children will experience recurrent infections despite antibiotic treatment, especially when the strep infections are severe, the child becomes a good candidate for a tonsillectomy.