Spring with its sustained warmer weather might be just around the corner, but try telling that to anyone still feeling the ill effects of cold and flu season – such as a sore throat – that typically aligns itself with winter.
If it's not bad enough that a cold brings runny noses, congestion, headaches and even fatigue with it, a sore throat usually entails irritation, itchiness and pain – as well as swollen glands in the neck, swollen tonsils and a hoarse voice—that can make swallowing a real hassle and leave sufferers asking, "What causes a sore throat?" and "How can I get rid of it?"
The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as a cold or flu. One thing to know – a sore throat isn't necessarily a sure sign that you have or are getting a cold, though. There also are bacterial infections such as strep throat (a throat inflammation generated by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria), diphtheria and whooping cough.
Other causes, per healthline.com, include environmental factors such as mold, pet dander, pollen and other allergens (which produce sore throat-inducing postnasal drip), as well as dry air, cigarette smoke and excessive yelling; gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); and, in rare cases, something more serious such as HIV or throat cancer.
For anyone who has a sore throat or, worse, strep throat, hearing that there are measures that can be taken to prevent or at least reduce the chances of being burdened with a sore throat can come across as small consolation – as too little, too late. With sympathy for current sufferers, here are some preventative measures to, if nothing else, file away for future reference:
- Keep washing your hands throughout the day, preferably with soap and water, or with hand sanitizer to destroy bacteria that cause viral or bacterial infections.
- Avoid using drinking glasses or utensils used by others.
- Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces.
- Avoid allergens such as dust and mold.
- Stay away from cigarette smoke.
- Consider placing a humidifier in your home to reduce air dryness.
In most cases, if you still end up with a sore throat, it can be successfully remedied without need to see a doctor or get a prescription, mostly by just letting it run its course. There are a number of ways to at least ease the discomfort of sore throat while perhaps hastening its departure:
- Gargle with warm salt water.
- Suck on throat lozenges.
- Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce inflammation.
- Drink or otherwise consume lots of warm fluids such as water, teas and soup.
If your sore throat persists for more than two weeks, or if you experience atypical symptoms such as bloody mucus, an earache, difficulty breathing or swallowing, rash or fever above 101 degree Fahrenheit, among others, it's time to see your physician. He or she will likely examine you, looking for signs of strep throat or another type of throat infection.
Among the tests that might be ordered up in the doctor's office are a throat culture, which involves a swab against the back of the throat; a rapid antigen test, which can detect strep throat in a matter of minutes; and rapid DNA test, involving DNA technology.
If a bacterial infection is diagnosed, the physician may or may not prescribe an antibiotic, mindful that many infections are showing an increased resistant to antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in medical practice is becoming more discriminatory – physicians reluctant to overuse them, even for conditions that in recent years would have begged for them.
Bottom line: when it comes to taking care of your health, don't let your throat become a sore point.