That feeling when your throat hurts real bad, is often the feeling that is associated with severe discomfort and irritation. Whether adults or kids, having a sore throat can be a very painful experience. Most of the time, sore throats are a result of a viral infection, which usually resolves on its own. About once in four years, you may have a sore throat that is caused by the strep bacteria, which needs more attention than a usual sore throat and is required to be treated using antibiotics.
A sore throat, also called as pharyngitis, is a common condition, which almost all of us has encountered. The presence of a sore throat indicates a number of medical conditions, most of which are treatable. If a sore throat is due to a viral infection, there is no magic cure to it and all that you can do is to wait it out. Painkillers and soothing warm liquids are the only way to get some relief.
A sore throat may be an itchy, scratchy, or burning sensation in the throat, which may be painful at times. A sore throat may also be accompanied by a cough that aggravates the condition even more. Colds and viruses can cause a sore throat, which usually resolves in a few days. However, when a sore throat continues and there is no relief for it, it is a serious problem that needs to be resolved.
An acute sore throat is commonly a result of infection and could appear suddenly. It may last for a few days or even weeks. Sometimes, treatment is not needed as it fades away on its own. On the other hand, a chronic sore throat is often more difficult to manage. A sore throat is considered chronic if throat pain, itchiness, or irritation last for more than three months.
When a person experiences a chronic sore throat, it may be a sign from the body. The circumstances of a chronic sore throat may vary, but persistent pain requires attention from a healthcare professional. It is normally triggered due to seasonal allergies and can adversely affect people who have compromised immunity functions.
The symptoms of chronic pain differ in individuals, but the presence of pain, burning, itching, difficulty breathing or swallowing lasting more than a week requires medical attention. In addition, seeking help is a good idea if a sore throat comes and goes over time.
Other signs and symptoms of a chronic sore throat may include:
- Painful swallowing
- Chronic cough
- Voice changes (hoarseness)
- Continuous clearing of the throat
Smoking and allergies are some of the causes of a persistent sore throat, which produces pain and discomfort. These causes can lead to recurring symptoms that may not indicate serious problems. However, in other cases, recurring or persistent sore throats indicate a more serious condition.
Causes of a Chronic Sore Throat
- Tonsillitis (the most common cause)
- Inhaling air pollutants
- Strep throat (another common cause)
- Acid reflux disease
- Infectious mononucleosis (mono)
- Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose
Some conditions such as influenza are mild cases and may not require treatment, while tonsillitis and strep throat can lead to serious medical problems if left untreated. The other causes such as inhaling air pollutants or smoking are modifiable problems, which means that you can control them to improve your sore throat. A chronic sore throat with no apparent cause, particularly when accompanied by hoarseness of voice, difficulty swallowing, or a lump can be caused by a cancerous growth.
Identifying the cause of a chronic sore throat will depend on the signs and symptoms present aside from a sore throat. The patient’s medical history will also be considered. In some cases, other diagnostic procedures such as laryngoscopy, neck X-ray, or CT scan may be needed.
Identifying a Chronic Sore Throat
Although at the start, every sore throat comes up with similar symptoms, making it difficult to tell the difference between a regular one due to flu and a chronic infection. However, there are some telltale signs that require immediate medical attention before they develop into a chronic infection. If any of the below symptoms apply to you, then you may be suffering from other medical conditions that require further attention.
- Swelling in the neck or throat: Inflammation in the neck often results due to enlarged lymph glands. They are also known as lymph nodes, which usually swell as the body’s response to any form of infection. Swelling in these glands can also result due to tonsillitis, glandular fever, and other infections. The glandular form of swelling and inflammation is, unfortunately, a sign of a serious medical condition including cancer, HIV, lupus, and syphilis. Sometimes, just as the throat gets affected by the inflammation, there may be some swelling and irritation in the tongue area as well.
- Skin rashes: A sore throat that is accompanied by a skin rash is often attributed to a medical condition or a childhood disease such as chickenpox, measles, or rubella. These conditions need immediate medical attention and can be very severe in some cases, even resulting in death.
- Fever: A sore throat is often characterized by fever as with any other infection. However, in the case of small children, fever should not be taken lightly. If your child's temperature goes above 37 degrees Celsius, it could be a warning sign that it is a little more than just another sore throat. Untreated fever, especially in babies, could become complex anytime and may result in various health conditions such as seizures.
- Stiffness in the neck: When a sore throat is accompanied by stiffness in the neck, it could be a sign of meningitis, which is yet again a very serious illness. It is an infection that causes inflammation in the membranes of the brain and the spinal cord. People suffering from meningitis may have a sore throat and a difficulty in moving their entire neck region.
- Drooling: When you have severe drooling along with soreness of the throat, then it could be a symptom that it is much more than just another sore throat. Any sore throat that lasts for more than a couple of days is a sign of something serious.
Finding Relief with Sore Throat
There could be various causes of your sore throat. However, if you are irritated with them, then it is better to stick on to some home remedies that can prove to be helpful in soothing a sore and painful throat. Here are some simple home remedies that could be helpful in relieving a throat pain at home:
- Keep sucking on some ice cubes, popsicles, or throat lozenges to keep your throat and mouth from drying out. This remedy also helps in maintaining the moisture in your mouth preventing it from drying out and causing further pain and discomfort.
- Keep sipping in water or other warm liquids to keep your throat moist and hydrated. You can add some ginger juice and honey to a warm drink and sip on for a soothing effect on the throat.
- Over-the-counter painkillers such as naproxen, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are often recommended to treat sore throats. These painkillers, however, must be only taken after consulting with a doctor. These painkillers only help in getting rid of the painful symptoms and cannot eliminate the root cause of your sore throat.
- Humidifiers can be very helpful in retaining the moisture levels in the atmosphere. They can very soothing when it comes to relieving dry sore throats. Besides, a humidifier could also help in keeping the room clean and free from bacteria. Before running a humidifier, it is, however, important to clean the equipment thoroughly and make sure there is no dirt settled on it.
- Gargling a mix of warm water and some salt can be very helpful in treating a sore throat. In fact, a salt water gargle is a proven remedy and one of the best ways for treating sore throats. However, the procedure must be repeated several times a day to achieve favorable results.
If your sore throat is a serious strep throat infection, then there are several other ways of keeping yourself protected. In the case of a bacterial infection like a strep throat, one has no other choice but to resort to antibiotic medications, which are prescribed by the doctor based on the bacterial sensitivity test. A sore throat that is persistent, recurring, or lasting for a long time can often be a cause of concern, especially in young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Such people must receive the immediate medical care required rather than taking the condition lightly.
Often, pointing at one single cause of a sore throat can be difficult. However, if your condition doesn't get any better, you know for a fact that it is more than just a sore throat. Speak with your doctor immediately if you think your sore throat is more than just a normal one. After the required tests and studies, the doctor will be in the best position to determine the treatment options for your condition.