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Sore Throat

Sore throat - Signs, causes and sore throat treatment options

A sore throat can feel unpleasant, painful and cause swallowing difficulty sometimes. Most sore throats are caused by an infection, but there are other reasons for why your throat may feel scratchy.

How to manage a sore throat?

Pain in the throat can be a sign of an infection like the cold or the flu. In most cases, it clears up within a week but if your sore throat is accompanied by fever consider consulting your local health care provider (e.g. pharmacist) for advice.

Are you finding it difficult to swallow? Does it feel like there’s something stuck at the back of your throat? Do you have a hoarse voice and your throat is scratchy?

These are common signs of a sore throat. When you have a throat that hurts, you’ll want to know what caused it. That way, you can effectively treat it.

Woman with sore throat

What are the top three symptoms of a sore throat?

The signs and symptoms of a sore throat vary depending on what’s causing the condition. But the top signs that your throat is sore usually include:

1. A scratchy feeling at the back of your throat 

2. Pain in the throat or at the back of the mouth

3. Finding it difficult to swallow

Sometimes an itch at the back of your throat goes away when you sip some water. Other times it can linger and cause more severe pain. Watch out for these three signs of sore throat.

What are sore throat symptoms?

A sore and painful throat will usually feel inflamed and irritable. Sore throats often accompany the common cold or the flu, but they can be signs of a more serious infection like strep throat.

Most people notice that their throat is sore when it’s painful to swallow or they feel like something is stuck at the back of their throat and scratching against the lining of the throat.

Common signs of a sore throat include:

  •  A scratchy, raw, burning or tender throat
  •  Pain in the throat or at the back of the mouth
  •  Finding it difficult to swallow
  •  Hoarse voice
  •  Swollen glands around the jaw and neck area
  •  Swollen tonsils
  •  Difficulty breathing – please consult your doctor
  •  Pain when eating or drinking

Depending on the underlying causes of a sore throat you may also have any of the following symptoms:

  •  Cough
  •  Pus at the back of the throat
  •  Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  •  Nasal congestion
  •  Runny nose
  •  Chills and body aches
  •  Reduced appetite
Woman drinking tea with lemon

Although most sore throats go away with home treatment within one week and are manageable with pain medication like paracetamol (Panadol), you should visit a doctor if your sore throat persists. Seek medical help if you notice:

  •  Sore throat that doesn’t go away
  •  Difficulty breathing
  •  Swelling in the neck
  •  Pain in the ear
  •  Skin rash
Woman holding her throat in pain

What causes a sore throat?

There are many different causes for a sore throat - from colds to a bacterial or viral infection. To decide on the best sore throat treatment, it’s important to understand the underlying causes for what’s causing you pain.

Sore throats are incredibly common and may affect people multiple times a year.

In the majority of cases, a throat infection is caused by viruses or bacteria.

But what’s the difference between viral infection and bacteria?

Viral infections that can cause painful swallowing include colds, the flu, measles, Covid-19, and chickenpox.

Bacteria can cause strep throat.

Besides a painful throat, other symptoms of a strep infection include:

  •  Loss of appetite
  •  Painful or swollen tonsils
  •  Small red spots on the roof of the mouth
  •  Swollen lymph nodes

If you suspect strep throat, it’s best to go see a doctor. They can perform a throat swab to determine if bacteria are present. Where strep is caused by bacterial infection, you may need to take antibiotics to help treat the infection.

Woman adding honey to her tea

Other causes for a sore throat are:

  • Allergies: When your immune system triggers an allergic response to pollen, dust mites or pet hair, it can cause your throat to feel inflamed and irritated. Post-nasal drip may make it feel even worse.
  • Smoking: If you’re a smoker, you may get sore throats more often because the tobacco irritates the lining at the back of the throat.
  • Air pollution and other chemicals: People who work with toxic chemicals or are exposed to polluted air regularly may find their throats hurting more often.
  • Dry air: During winter, your throat could be scratchy because of the heating drying it out.
  • A tear or injury: Small injuries from swallowing a piece of food or even shouting too loudly can leave your throat to feel irritated and painful.
  • Acid reflux: Occasional indigestion is nothing to worry about. But if you suffer from acid reflux regularly, the lining at the back of your throat and mouth may become increasingly irritated by the stomach acid.

How to treat a sore throat?

The right sore throat treatment depends on the underlying causes. In most cases, home remedies like sipping warm, soothing drinks work well. To reduce inflammation and the pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or paracetamol. In many cases, a sore throat can be treated using home remedies. The following tend to relieve the pain:

  • Gargle with a mixture of warm water and salt (1 teaspoon). Avoid using hot water as that may aggravate your throat even more.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep the throat moist. Herbal tea with honey or warm water with lemon are good choices. Honey can be soothing for the throat.
  • Eat soft foods like soup to avoid worsening the inflammation.
  • Use lozenges to keep the throat moist and reduce the pain. 
  • You can also suck on a ice lollies or ice cream if cold feels better or when your throat is swollen due to an infection.
  • Avoid shouting, singing and sometimes even speaking to relax a hoarse voice. 

A sore throat can make you feel rotten and sometimes home treatments aren’t enough. When your throat is painful, you can try a pain medicine like Panadol for sore throat. The medicine in Panadol has been shown to provide effective relief from the pain of a sore throat.

Woman drinking tea

Measures for other causes of sore throat include:

Cause Treatment
Allergies Over-the-counter allergy medication (pills, syrup or nose spray).
Smoking Stopping smoking has a wide range of health benefits. You can try nicotine gums and patches to help wean yourself off cigarettes.
Air pollution / Chemicals Wear protective masks and gloves to avoid inhalation of toxic or harmful gases.
Dry air Get a humidifier and sip fluids more frequently throughout the day.
Injury If it’s a small cut, disinfect the wound by gargling with water and salt. In cases of injury or trauma to the throat, see a doctor.
Acid reflux Antacids, alginates or proton pump inhibitors are available as over-the-counter tablets or on prescription if you have acid reflux.
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