One of the most telltale characteristics of a sore throat is irritation or pain in the throat. It usually worsens when you swallow. One of the most common causes of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as a cold or flu. A sore throat can happen to people of any age group. In most cases, a sore throat resolves on its own. Very rare cases require medical treatments.
A recently found respiratory disease, COVID-19, has a variety of symptoms, including a sore throat. To date, there isn’t an explanation for when exactly a sore throat occurs during the Coronavirus infection. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a sore throat isn’t a common symptom of COVID-19. So, if you develop a sore throat, it may not necessarily indicate you have COVID-19.
What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is one of the most common respiratory health complications. It often occurs during the colder months of the year. This is the season when most respiratory diseases are recorded.
One of the first signs of a sore throat is the raw, burning feeling in the throat. In most cases, it means that you have a cold or the flu. But in rare cases, it may be a sign of serious conditions.
A lesser common type of sore throat – strep throat – is a streptococcal infection. Bacteria cause this condition and it may require antibiotics to avoid further complications.
What are the symptoms of a sore throat?
The signs and symptoms of a sore throat may vary depending on the cause. The common symptoms include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in the throat
- A hoarse voice
- Pain that worsens with talking
- Sore glands in the jaw or neck region
- Swollen tonsils
- Pus or white patches on the tonsils
A sore throat caused by an infection may show different symptoms, such as:
- Runny nose
In the case of COVID-19
A sore throat is a symptom that one develops during the Coronavirus infection. The other common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Dry cough
Some of the lesser common symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste and smell
- Skin rash
If you experience any of these symptoms along with a sore throat, immediately visit a hospital to get yourself checked. It is not serious in most cases, but it is better to rule out any serious conditions before it worsens.
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What are the other medical conditions and problems that indicate sore throat as a symptom?
If you develop a sore throat, it may not necessarily indicate COVID-19. Cold or flu is the cause of throat soreness in more cases.
There are several medical conditions and problems with a sore throat is a symptom as well. Here are some of the conditions that indicate a sore throat as a symptom:
- Common Cold
The common cold is a viral infection of your upper respiratory tract and nose. Several types of viruses cause the common cold. It is usually harmless and goes away in a few days. You may notice symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, mild headache, congestion, or sneezing.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is a medical condition where the stomach acid flows back to your esophagus. This frequent backwash of the acid can irritate your esophagus causing a sore throat, difficulty in swallowing, or a sensation of a lump in your throat.
- Throat Cancer
Tumors that develop in your larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), or tonsils are called throat cancers.
Flat cells line the inside of your throat, and the throat cancer usually begins in these cells. The voice box is found just below the throat and is susceptible to cancer. Epiglottis – a piece of cartilage – acts as a lid for the windpipe. In some cases, throat cancers develop in the cartilage as well.
Tonsil cancer is another form of throat cancer that affects the tonsils – located at the back of your neck. You may notice symptoms such as a sore throat, cough, difficulty swallowing, or changes in your voice.
Dysphagia, also known as swallowing disorder, is the difficulty you face while swallowing food or liquid. In some cases, swallowing may cause pain as well. Occasional difficulty swallowing occurs when you don’t chew your food enough or try to swallow it too fast.
You may notice symptoms such as drooling, pain while swallowing, frequent heartburn, or gagging while swallowing food.
Tonsillitis is a medical condition where your tonsils start to swell. You can find the tonsils – two oval-shaped tissue pads – at the back of your throat. Symptoms of tonsillitis include difficulty swallowing, sore throat, throaty voice, bad breath, or a stiff neck.
What are the causes of a sore throat?
The most common cause for a sore throat is a cold or the flu. The symptoms of a cold develop slowly, but the flu develops quickly. The cold is less harmful than the flu.
If you have a hoarse voice, a cough, or a runny nose, it is mostly because of the cold. With the flu, you experience severe symptoms such as headaches, body pain, or fever.
Other causes of a sore throat are:
Air pollution or tobacco smoke can cause chronic sore throat. Eating spicy food, consuming alcohol, or chewing tobacco can also irritate the throat, causing a sore throat.
The dry indoor air causes the scratchy and rough throat. Because of chronic nasal congestion, you develop a sore and dry throat when you breathe through your mouth
Tumors of tongue, throat, and larynx (the voice box) can also lead to a sore throat. Other symptoms include noisy breathing, hoarse voice, a lump in the neck, and difficulty swallowing.
What are the risk factors associated with a sore throat?
A sore throat can occur in any individual of any age group. But some people are more susceptible because of the following factors:
If you have allergic reactions to pollen, pet dander (small pieces of pet skin), or dust, you are more likely to develop a sore throat.
Children and teens are at an increased risk of developing a sore throat. Children between the age group of 3-15 years are more likely to develop strep throat – sore throat caused by bacteria.
- Frequent Sinus Infections
If you develop frequent sinus infections, the drainage from your nose can sometimes irritate your throat, causing a sore throat
- Weak Immunity System
If your immunity system is weak, you are at a higher risk of developing many kinds of infections, including viral or bacterial infection. Common causes of weak immunity include a poor diet, chemotherapy drugs, diabetes, stress, HIV, and fatigue.
What complications can arise if a sore throat is left untreated?
Complications resulting due to a sore throat differ in every individual. Some of the common complications include:
- The pain in your throat can disrupt your sleeping patterns.
- If you don’t consume enough fluids because of the difficulty in swallowing, you may get dehydrated.
- Adequate nutrition is another concern if the pain increases, and you have trouble swallowing fluids or food.
Can a sore throat be prevented?
The best way to prevent a sore throat is to practice good hygiene and avoid germs that cause it. Here are a few preventive measures you can take:
- Wash your hands frequently with antibacterial soap or hand wash, after using the toilet, before and after eating meals, and after coughing or sneezing.
- When soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers as an alternative.
- Avoid drinking water from public drinking fountains.
- Regularly clean things you touch, such as your smartphone, computer keyboards, doorknobs, and TV remotes.
- Avoid getting in close contact with sick people.
How is a sore throat diagnosed?
Diagnosing a sore throat is easy. You could use the following methods to diagnose a sore throat:
- Physical Exam
The most common form of diagnosis is a physical exam. The doctor will take a lighted instrument and check your throat, nasal passage, and ears. Then he/she will gently touch your neck to look for swollen glands. If needed, he/she may listen to your breathing with a stethoscope.
- Throat Swab
This test detects streptococcal bacteria – which causes strep throat. The doctor will gently rub a sterile swab at the back of your throat to collect a secretions sample. The sample will then be sent to the laboratory to check for the streptococcal bacteria.
What are the treatment options for a sore throat?
In most cases, a sore throat caused by a viral infection doesn’t require any medical treatment. It resolves on its own in five to seven days. Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may prescribe acetaminophen to ease pain and fever.
You can treat a sore throat caused by bacterial infections with antibiotics in most cases. You must take the full course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor, even if the symptoms go away sooner.
Take the medication as prescribed or the infection’s chances of worsening or spreading to other body parts may increase.
Here are some home remedies you can try to ease your symptoms:
- Get plenty of sleep and rest your voice too.
- Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and keep your throat moist.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these beverages can dehydrate your throat.
- Gargle with saltwater. Take about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 120 to 240 milliliters of warm water and mix it well. It will help soothe your throat and ease the pain.
- Avoid places where the number of irritants, such as cigarette smoke, pollution, and chemicals is more.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How long does a sore throat last?
Most sore throats caused by a viral infection usually go away in seven to ten days. In case of a bacterial infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics for the infection. The sore throat will go away in a few days, provided you take all the prescribed antibiotics.
2. When should I start worrying about my sore throat?
Visit the doctor if:
- The pain in your throat worsens.
- Fever over 101 degrees lasts for more than two days.
- Difficulty sleeping because of swollen tonsils.
- A red rash appears.
3. How should I sleep with a sore throat?
Sleeping on an incline helps with a sore throat. It will help clear the mucus in your throat and make breathing easier.
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