A sore throat can affect people of all ages, although children, smokers, allergy sufferers, and people with a compromised immune system are more at risk. The most likely cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as the cold and flu. However there are also a wide variety of conditions that have sore throat as a symptom, ranging from other viral infections like measles, to bacterial infections, environmental factors, or even gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). While most sore throats do not require medical attention, determining the cause of your sore throat can help your doctor treat your symptoms. Specifically, you should see a doctor if your sore throat lasts for longer than one week or if you experience: difficulty breathing, joint pain, difficulty swallowing, an earache, a rash, a fever over 101 degrees F, bloody mucus, or a lump in the throat, as these may be indications of more serious conditions.
While throat pain is the primary symptom of a sore throat, other symptoms may include:
- a dry throat
- swollen glands in the neck
- white patches on the tonsils
- difficulty swallowing food and liquids
- pain may get worse when they try to swallow
Note that it can be difficult to diagnose a sore throat in infants and toddlers who cannot verbalize their complaints. In this age group, refusal to eat is a common sign of throat irritation.
The treatment for a sore throat largely depends on its specific cause. However, you can treat many sore throats at home by simply drinking plenty of warm fluids, such as teas, soup, and water, and gargling with warm salt water. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to reduce the inflammation and discomfort, as can throat lozenges. Care should be taken to avoid allergens and irritants, such as smoke and chemicals that can make the condition worse.
Sore throats caused by a bacterial infection are usually treated with a course of antibiotics to kill the infectious organisms. Make sure to complete the full course of the medication as prescribed by your doctor, as a sore throat may recur if you stop treatment early.
Viral infections that cause sore throats are usually allowed to run their course. During that time, your doctor may recommend medications, such as Ibuprofen to ease your symptoms, and, in some cases, may want to try an antiviral drug to fight the virus.