We all know that feeling of waking up with a painful tickle in our throats. And right now, it feels like everyone is getting them. Maybe you slept with your mouth open, or you went to a concert the night before and sang too loud. But usually, a sore throat, also known as pharyngitis, means something more.
Cases of RSV, the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19 are all coinciding in our area. If your throat is bothering you, there is no need to wait for an evaluation. Make an appointment with one of our primary care providers or walk into your neighborhood CityMD to receive a timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment for your symptoms.
What are the causes of a sore throat?
A sore throat is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor. Troy Dickinson, DO, a family practice physician at Summit Health, says sore throats can have many causes, including:
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Acid reflux
- Eating spicy foods or drinking hot liquids
“The most common cause of a sore throat is a viral infection, such as the common cold. Other viral causes include coxsackievirus (hand, foot, and mouth disease), Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis), and the flu. Tonsillitis, which is inflammation of the tonsils, can also be viral,” explains Dr. Dickinson.
Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that can be very painful. The infection spreads easily when people are in close contact at schools and offices. Children, ages 5 to 15, are more likely to develop strep throat.
Symptoms of a sore throat
Depending on the cause of the sore throat, you may experience a range of symptoms from mild discomfort to severe pain that makes it difficult to swallow. If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, walk in to the closest CityMD for an evaluation.
- Pain in the back of the throat, neck, tonsils, or ears
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever with red, swollen tonsils that may have white dots or streaks (most common in bacterial infections like strep throat)
- A burning sensation in the throat (usually caused by acid reflux)
Certain bacterial infections like strep throat will need to be treated with prescription medication to fully resolve.
How do you treat a sore throat?
For viral infections, Dr. Dickinson says you need to wait them out. Antibiotics will not help treat a sore throat that is caused by a virus. He recommends you treat the pain by taking over-the-counter ibuprofen, using throat lozenges, and increasing your fluid intake. Most symptoms will resolve within a week or ten days. Mononucleosis may take a month or longer to clear up.
For bacterial infections and bacterial-based tonsillitis, Dr. Dickinson advises antibiotics. If your sore throat is caused by post-nasal drip from allergies, antihistamines are the best choice. For acid reflux, Dr. Dickinson recommends over-the-counter antacids, sleeping on your left side, and being mindful not to overeat particularly before bedtime.
For non-illness-related causes of a sore throat, lifestyle and behavioral changes will allow the throat to heal. Avoid irritants like smoking and spicy food and give your voice time to rest.
Home remedies for a sore throat
To relieve the pain, you can gargle with salt water. You can also run a cool-air humidifier. Drinking tea or warm water with honey, which has antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, may also be helpful. Remember, though, honey can be dangerous when given under the age of one. Avoid using honey until your child’s first birthday.
In addition, Dr. Dickinson says, “you should avoid caffeine and alcohol as these substances can dehydrate you.”
When should you see your doctor?
For children, if symptoms don't improve after their first drink of the morning, parents should make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Your physician can also test you for strep throat. Seek immediate care if your child has any of these symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Excessive drooling
For adults, see a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing, swallowing, or opening your mouth
- Fever — greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
- Joint pain
- Blood in the saliva or phlegm
- Facial or neck swelling
- Hoarseness of the voice that lasts more than two weeks
- Sore throat that lasts longer than one week