sore throat

How To Get Rid Of A Sore Throat?

When your throat begins to feel scratchy and raw and you have difficulty swallowing your first instinct is to chalk it up to a sore throat. But how do you know if it’s simply allergies, dry air or a run of the mill cold? You can’t really be sure unless you know what to look for.

One of the best ways to find out the source of a sore throat is to speak with your doctor. If left untreated it can be very difficult to get rid of a sore throat with simple treatments. Often if left untreated, a sore throat can worsen and lead to surgery and more severe illnesses.

Knowing the symptoms of a sore throat can help you find the perfect remedy.

Sore Throat Causes & Symptoms

There are quite a few causes for a sore throat, with the most common being associated with seasonal illnesses such as a common cold or the flu. Mononucleosis, generally referred to simply as ‘mono’, is yet another virus that can cause a sore throat. Viral sore throats can lead to symptoms such as blisters on the mouth and the back of the throat, however not always.

Infections are yet another cause of a sore throat, including tonsil and adenoid infections. Bacterial infections are included as well, which include strep throat. These are associated with other illnesses but there are also lifestyle and environmental causes of a sore throat including breathing through the mouth, smoking and dehydration.

Sore throats come with plenty of symptoms, including puss or sores.

Sore throats come with plenty of symptoms, including puss or sores.

In some instances, treatments for more serious illness such as cancer or AIDS can cause a sore throat.

How do you know if you have a generic sore throat or something more? Sore throat symptoms for serious illnesses are generally accompanied by other symptoms, whereas just a sore throat usually just causes one or more of the following symptoms;

  • Hoarseness
  • Fatigue & exhaustion
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Coughing & sneezing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Swollen glands in the neck

If any of these symptoms are accompanied by more serious symptoms or last longer than 10 days, see your doctor to prescribe a sore throat treatment plan.

Home Treatment

Most of the time sore throats will last for a few days with the symptoms slowly lessening over time. In fact, a mild sore throat can be treated at home without the use of prescription drugs or a trip to the doctor.

You can use basic over the counter sore throat medicines to treat your sore throat symptoms. Cough drops, throat lozenges and throat sprays are common over the counter home treatments for a sore throat. These treatments are intended to alleviate the pain temporarily.

Most home treatments for a sore throat are associated with pain relief, which is why many rely on pain killers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These treatments will only relieve the pain, not get rid of it or other symptoms of a sore throat.

Mouth breathing can be due to blocked nasal passages, can cause a sore throat.

Mouth breathing can be due to blocked nasal passages, can cause a sore throat.

If your sore throat is due to breathing through your mouth, you may also need to use a nasal spray such as Nasonex to help you stop mouth breathing.

Finally one of the best ways to get rid of a sore throat is to drink more fluids. Chances are you aren’t drinking enough water as it is, so to fight an illness or infection requires more fluids to hasten your improvement. Avoid caffeine and carbonated beverages and stick to healthy fluids like water, low sodium soup broth and tea.

Home Remedies

One of the most popular home remedies for sore throats is gargling with warm salt water. This will reduce the swelling making the throat tender and relieve the discomfort and pain in the throat. Make sure you use no more than 1 teaspoon of salt per 8 ounces of water, and gargle at least once an hour or as needed.

Gargling salt water as in the photo above, is a popular home treatment of sore throats.

Gargling salt water as in the photo above, is a popular home treatment of sore throats.

Many people with older homes or apartments that have a dry heating system often use a humidifier to ward off or treat a sore throat. An air humidifier will inject some moisture into the bedroom so if you regularly breathe through your mouth as you sleep, you can get some relief from your sore throat.

Sleep and diet are an important part of treating many illnesses, a sore throat included, as these factors both speed up the healing process. A healthy diet that includes more water and soup can help give the body more vitamins that help boost the immune system while providing you with foods that are easy to eat with a sore throat. And sleep promotes a speedy recover, particularly if your sore throat is due to bacterial or viral infection.

A steam tent, pictured above, can help clear nasal passages for easier breathing.

A steam tent, pictured above, can help clear nasal passages for easier breathing.

One home remedy for a sore throat that often gets dismissed as junk medicine is a steam tent, but it works. Get a bowl or pot of freshly-boiled water and cover your head with a large towel, making a tent to trap the steam. This will clear your pores and nasal passages to help breathing easier and shorten your sickness. Add a few drops of eucalyptus, jasmine, lemon or tea tree oil to soothe your throat as you inhale.

Herbal Remedies For Sore Throat

Treating a sore throat can be done using a variety of remedies, including using herbs. The most common herbal remedy for a sore throat is herbal tea because it gives you hot water to soothe the throat and herbs that have healing properties. An alternative to herbal tea can be gargling with herbed water, similar to tea but without swallowing. Add an herb like sage or turmeric (available in most spice aisles) to salted boiling water. Steep for 5 to 10 minutes then let cool slightly before gargling.

You can use herbs in the form of teas, gargles, warm compresses, steam tents or vapor rubs to help relieve the pain and treat a sore throat. For a warm compress, simply steep the hot water with herbs before wetting the compress.

Some herbs that have been known to treat a sore throat include;

  • Echinacea
  • Ginseng
  • Parsley
  • Elderflower
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Chamomile
  • Yellowroot
  • Myrrh
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are the most common medical treatment to get rid of a sore throat as sore throats are most often caused by some type of infection. While antibiotics may not alleviate the symptoms of a sore throat, they will treat the illness causing the sore throat, which will slowly subside.

When taking antibiotics for a sore throat, the best method is following the physician’s instructions, which typically include taking all pills even if symptoms have already disappeared. Infections such as strep throat take time to kill, and prematurely ending your antibiotics regimen can cause another flare up.

Tonsillectomy

In some instances a sore throat is due to tonsillitis, which is an infection of the tonsilar lymph tissues. The main function of the tonsils is to fight off infections which often leads to swollen tonsilar lymphs, but they revert to normal size once the infection has been warded off. Despite the fact that the tonsils are doing exactly what they should be, many doctors will recommend a tonsillectomy, or removal of the tonsils. This practice has become increasingly controversial, particularly in small children who will be without a built-in method of fighting infections.

A sore throat can be due to tonsillitis—shown below—or the effect of tonsil removal.

A sore throat can be due to tonsillitis—shown below—or the effect of tonsil removal.

Tonsillectomies used to be a common sore throat treatment but many physicians are now only removing the tonsils in extreme cases such as breathing related sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or recurring tonsillitis. One side effect of a tonsillectomy however, is a sore throat.

Tips

Sometimes a sore throat is just a sore throat, while other times it is an indicator of a more serious illness. Below are some tips to help you deal with sore throat symptoms to seek the right treatment.

  • See your doctor is your sore throat came quickly and is accompanied by fever or tenderness in the neck and throat.
  • Get medical attention for any sore throat lasting longer than 7 days.
  • If you are pregnant and suffering from a sore throat for more than 3 days, consult your physician right away.
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing can indicate more serious health problems.
  • Avoid using throat lozenges and cough drops on young children as a sore throat treatment since it is a choking hazard.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Eliminate fatty foods and sugary drinks when you suffer from a sore throat.

Prevention

Many things can be done to prevent sore throats, notably a healthy diet and lifestyle. This means eating foods high in immune boosting vitamins and regular exercise that helps you sweat out toxins. And sleep is especially important because it gives the body time to recharge enough to fight off infections, particularly during cold and flu seasons.

One of the most obvious methods of preventing a sore throat is to keep your distance from others suffering from infections. Whether it’s a cold, the flu, strep or mono, these illnesses can put you at risk of a sore throat or worse. If close contact is unavoidable, make sure you are vigilant about washing your hands with soap and using hand sanitizer between washes. Do not share eating utensils, beverages, lip balm or bodily fluids.

One guaranteed way to prevent a sore throat is to quit smoking and avoid second hand smoke. Inhaling cigarette smoke is one cause for recurring sore throats and eliminating that toxic smoke from your diet can reduce sore throat occurrences.

Cigarette smoke—direct and secondhand—can cause chronic sore throats.

Cigarette smoke—direct and secondhand—can cause chronic sore throats.

Warnings

If left untreated a sore throat can worsen to something much worse and more difficult to treat, including the formation of abscesses on the tongue, mouth and throat. These formations mean the infection is spreading which will require a more invasive treatment, even surgery.

Rheumatic fever can develop from a sore throat due to a bacterial infection. Rheumatic fever can lead to heart, skin, joint and nerve damage as well as kidney inflammation. These illnesses are why it is imperative that you consult with a physician if your sore throat lasts longer than a week. There are many causes of a sore throat, but if it is due to strep throat or mono, these can weaken your immune system if left untreated and a weakened immune system puts you at greater risk of more serious illnesses and infections.

Written By Miranda Stephens

Miranda Stephens, MD is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. Dr. Stephens earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado.She completed a residency in Family Medicine at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In 2006 Dr. Stephens was chosen for Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

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