Sore Throat: Top Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Diagnosis of Sore Throat Infection

It’s important to know the root cause of infection because bacterial-related sore throats respond well to antibiotics while viral ones do not. Determining the cause of infection will therefore help your doctor to recommend the right treatment.

When you have a sore throat and visit the doctor, the primary test to diagnose your condition is a physical exam where a light apparatus is used to inspect the throat for signs of inflammation or white patches. Your physician may also feel the neck to check for swollen lymph glands.

A throat culture is another common test for sore throat. Your doctor will simply rub a sterile swab at the back of your mouth. The sample is then checked for bacteria or viruses, with lab test results returning within 24 to 48 hours.

If the infection is suspected to have come from an allergen, several allergy tests may also be conducted. In addition, a blood sample may be taken for conducting a CBC test, which gives precise results as to whether your sore throat is due to a viral or bacterial agent.

You may be referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist for further tests if other signs and symptoms indicate the presence of a more serious condition other than a simple sore throat.

Sore Throat Treatment Options

Everyone experiences a sore throat at some point in life. Normally, it doesn’t take longer than 3 to 4 days for the irritation in the throat to fully clear up on its own with some extra care like by drinking more water, avoiding spicy or fried foods, and sucking on a couple of lozenges until our throats feel better.

  • When to Visit a Doctor

In most cases, a sore throat isn’t something that’s life-threatening and your immune system will clear away this infection within a week. However, if sucking on lozenges doesn’t seem to be alleviating the pain and that the pain seems to be worsening despite your diet of bland foods, then it’s recommended to visit a doctor to check whether a serious medical condition is causing persistent sore throat to get worst.

It’s advisable to head straight to a hospital and discontinue any form of self-medication if sore throat is further accompanied by conditions like a high fever, extreme pain, drooling, or difficulties in breathing and swallowing.

Depending on the diagnosis, treatment options for serious sore throat cases can range all the way from over-the-counter painkillers, antibiotics to surgery.

  1. Painkillers and Decongestants

If a viral infection is causing a sore throat, a decongestant may be prescribed to clear the nasal tract and make way for easier breathing. Treatment for painful sore throats may also involve the use of painkillers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), aspirin or ibuprofen to ease the discomfort. And if you’re running a fever, the use of aspirin will help to bring your temperature down while taking away the soreness of your throat. Just take note that aspirin isn’t recommended for people under the age of 16.

Although it may be relatively easy to purchase painkillers without a prescription, always be sure to consult a doctor first if you have any of these conditions:

  • Respiratory illnesses such as asthma
  • Ulcers in the stomach
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney problems

Individuals who are suffering from any of the abovementioned conditions are likely be on medications, and you’ll need to seek a doctor’s advice on the contraindications (if any) between a particular painkiller and your current medications.

  1. Antibiotics

For serious bacterial infections, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the organisms causing the infection. However, the use of antibiotics to treat sore throats is usually not recommended for generally healthy people since it can cause unwanted side effects like diarrhea, indigestion, pains in the abdominal region, a loss of appetite, and antibiotics resistance. In certain cases, an allergic reaction to the antibiotic may sometimes lead to an individual breaking out in itchy rashes too, adding on to the pain and trauma one is already experiencing.

But despite these possible side effects, the use of antibiotics to treat sore throats may not be avoidable for certain groups of people. These include:

  • People who suffer from HIV
  • Diabetic patients
  • Individuals who suffer from widespread inflammation in the body
  • People who have recurring sore throats caused by the streptococcus bacteria

If your doctor has placed you on a course of antibiotics, keep in mind that it’s important to complete your sore throat medication dose even if symptoms start to clear up after a few days. Discontinuing the treatment too early can cause the sore throat to recur. And the next time your painful sore throat comes back, the prescribed antibiotics may not work as effectively anymore.

  1. Surgery For Tonsillitis

Surgery is recommended for people who are suffering from tonsillitis, which is perhaps the most serious and painful type of sore throat infection. While the use of painkillers, decongestants, and antibiotics can help alleviate the pain to a certain extent, a tonsillitis sufferer may be required to undergo surgery if the infection does not subside after a week.

Tonsillectomy, which is the surgery to remove the tonsils, is the recommended treatment plan if:

  • You suffer from an extremely painful sore throat that’s decreasing the quality of your life
  • Your sore throat recurs more than 7 times a year
  • And, if you suffer from a sore throat that’s caused by tonsillitis itself
  1. Home Remedies for Sore Throat

Besides using over the counter drugs such as throat lozenges, decongestants, paracetamol, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, you can also use a few home remedies to treat sore throats. These include:

  • Gargling warm salty water and resting the voice
  • Drinking hot fluids like lemon tea and soups
  • Avoiding exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, cold beverages and airborne irritants that trigger allergic reactions

How Long Does a Sore Throat Last?

In most cases, a sore throat presents itself as one of the symptoms of a common cold and will clear away within 2 to 7 days. However, you should seek treatment if:

  • Symptoms last for more than a week.
  • Sore throats do not respond well to over-the-counter medications.
  • Breathing becomes a problem.
  • Swallowing saliva and fluids becomes next to impossible or extremely difficult.
  • You have a fever.
  • You start drooling.
  • You have a weak immune system due to an underlying chronic disease.

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