So, your throat hurts.
A lot? Just in the morning? After talking? How long has it been this way?
These are just some of the questions you will need to answer to determine if your sore throat is, a) temporary, b) treatable, and c) requires the attention of a doctor.
Assessing the nature of your sore throat begins with understanding the cause of it. And determining the cause is sometimes only possible after being examined by a healthcare provider.
What causes a sore throat?
Infections from viruses or bacteria are the main cause of sore throats. Allergies, sinus infections and other irritants can also contribute to the condition.
As a general rule, see your doctor for sore throats lasting longer than five to seven days or if you’re having trouble breathing or swallowing.
Sore throats often accompany viral infections, including the flu, colds, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, croup and mononucleosis. Many of these conditions will run their course in a week or less and symptoms will abate. Others, including mono and measles, take longer to run their course, but have no specific treatment therapies.
How to treat: There is not much to do about a virus-caused sort throat, but manage the discomfort with over-the-counter (OTC) medication and wait it out.
Some bacterial infections that cause sore throats can and should be treated, others are not treatable, but their symptoms can be managed.
Strep throat has potentially serious side effects —including damage to heart valves and kidneys, scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.
How to treat: Strep should be treated with antibiotics under the care of a physician.
Tonsillitis is an infection of the lymphatic tissues on each side of the back of the throat.
How to treat: There is no specific treatment and it typically clears up in a week.
Infections in the nose and sinuses also can cause sore throats as mucus drains down into the throat and carries the infection with it.
How to treat: These typically clear up on their own, but if symptoms persist beyond five days, see your doctor.
Epiglottitis is the most dangerous throat infection. It is an emergency condition that requires prompt medical attention. Symptoms include extreme pain when swallowing (causing drooling), muffled speech and difficulty breathing.
How to treat: Epiglottitis should be diagnosed by a healthcare provider, then treated with antibiotics and airway support if necessary.
Allergies to environmental irritants like pollens, molds, pet dander and house dust are a common cause of sore throats. As the body increases mucus production to combat the allergen, the excess mucus drains down the throat, causing soreness.
How to treat: OTC antihistamines may help manage allergy symptoms, including sore throat. However, if you are not able to find a medication that offers relief, or you don’t want to guess which one to buy, see your doctor.
Throats can be irritated by dry heat— like you’ll find in Nevada homes in the winter — causing soreness.
How to treat: A humidifier in the room where you sleep or spend most of your time may help.
Straining your voice can also cause irritation, making it sore.
How to treat: Resting the vocal chords is typically the treatment for a strained voice. Depending on the severity, medication may also be used. See your doctor if condition persists.
If you have acid reflux— a regurgitation of stomach acids up into the back of the throat— you may experience a sore throat upon waking.
How to treat: A doctor can help manage acid reflux and prevent a sore throat from developing with medication.
How to manage the pain of a sore throat
You cannot always prevent a sore throat and not all sore throats are treatable, but most will pass. You can, however, manage the pain and discomfort of a mild sore throat with these remedies:
- Increase your liquid intake.
- Warm tea with honey is a favorite home remedy.
- Use a steamer or humidifier in your bedroom.
- Gargle with warm salt water several times daily: ¼ tsp. salt to ½ cup water.
When should you go to the doctor STAT?
The rules vary from kids to adults. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids should get immediate medical attention if they exhibit:
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unusual drooling
Even kids with less serious sore throats that persist after drinking something in the morning should see a doctor.
For adults, we’ve established that a sore throat lasting more than five to seven days warrants a trip to the doctor. If you have any of these additional symptoms along with your sore throat, you should go see your doctor, including:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty opening your mouth
- Joint pain
- Fever higher than 101 F (38.3 C)
- Blood in saliva or phlegm
- Frequently recurring sore throats
- A lump in your neck
- Hoarseness lasting more than two weeks
Whether you’re battling a severe condition or just a persistent one, Sierra Nevada ENT is ready to address your sore throat concerns. Call 775.883.7666 to make your appointment with a member of our knowledgeable and skilled care team.