How to cope when you have a sore throat

A sore throat is usually not a sign of serious problem. However, it can cause a person a lot of discomfort. PHOTO | NATION

What you need to know:

  • It may feel like an irritation at the rear of the throat. While soreness is usually the major symptom, a person may have other symptoms such as mild cough, hoarse voice, fatigue, headache, pain when swallowing, and swelling of the glands in the neck.
  • Treatment usually involves management of symptoms at home but you should visit a doctor should the symptoms not improve in a few days or should they become worse.

A sore throat is usually not a sign of serious problem. However, it can cause a person a lot of discomfort.

As you wait for a sore throat to clear, there are some things you can do to make yourself feel comfortable.  

Take a lozenge; lozenges have ingredients that help open up nasal passageways and soothe a sore throat.

Lozenges also stimulate production of saliva which may help in moistening the throat. Go for lozenges that are honey-based and contain peppermint or menthol.

There are also some lozenges which are medicated and contain mild anesthetic that gently act by numbing the throat thus easing the pain.

Take a pain reliever; this includes ibuprofen which helps relieve the inflammation that causes pain in the throat. Make sure to take the medication as recommended by the manufacturer.

Gargle using warm salty water; when you have a sore throat, the mucus membrane becomes inflamed and swollen, and this can result into a feeling of scratchiness and pain.

Rinsing the throat with salty water helps reduce the swelling and the throat feels better.

When gargling, tilt the head and make sure that the salty water reaches the back of the throat where there is inflammation. Do this for around 30 seconds and then spit out the water.

Gargle several times a day but do not overdo it.

Rehydrate; consume enough fluids to keep the sore throat from drying out.

Warm water is a good choice but you can also have other fluids in form of fruit juices or tea. Take drinks at room temperature as too hot drinks can hurt the inflamed throat.

You can add honey in drinks such tea. Honey acts by lining the throat hence reducing the inflammation. It also helps suppress a dry cough that may be associated with the sore throat.

Avoid anything that can irritate the throat; keep your surroundings clear of harsh substances as inhaling these can further get the throat irritated.

These include body sprays, cleaning detergents, and cigarette smoke as well as other sources. In addition keep off allergens such as dust and any other thing you may react to.

Eat foods that do not irritate sore throat; these include soups, mashed potatoes, and cooked cereal like rice. Soft, mashed foods are easy to swallow and do not irritate the sore throat.

Avoid foods that are spicy, crispy, or acidic as they can further irritate a throat that is already inflamed.

Have plenty of rest; give your body plenty of rest by taking some time off work and getting good sleep during the night. The more you rest, the more time you allow the body to fight off infection.

Take a warm bath or shower regularly; the steam that comes from the hot water helps moisten the irritated and dry throat.

Inhale the steam via the mouth and nose, and allow it to penetrate the nasal passageways and throat. If you want to just steam without taking a bath, run the water till it is very hot while the bathroom door is closed. Sit or stand inside the bathroom and inhale the steam for a few minutes.

Still, it is good to understand that some sore throats do not clear by themselves. Therefore, if you have a sore throat whose symptoms do not improve after these self-care tips or you develop severe pain or high fever, see a doctor as your sore may signify a serious condition.

 

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Sore throat: You don’t always  need to take antibiotics

Sore throats are common, and at the very least, quite annoying. A sore throat is usually a symptom of a viral or bacterial infection.

It may feel like an irritation at the rear of the throat. While soreness is usually the major symptom, a person may have other symptoms such as mild cough, hoarse voice, fatigue, headache, pain when swallowing, and swelling of the glands in the neck.

Treatment usually involves management of symptoms at home but you should visit a doctor should the symptoms not improve in a few days or should they become worse.

 

Dear doc,

I have a sore throat, do I need to see a doctor or should I wait until it heals on its own?

Eliana.

Dear Eliana,

Usually, the soreness associated with a sore throat tends to get worse in the first two to three days, but slowly clears in about a week. Treatment for a sore throat is not always necessary because most infections of the throat are usually mild and the immune system clears them in a few days.

However, see a doctor if your symptoms do not clear in a week’s time or you have a constant fever that does not respond to over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol.

In this case, the doctor will examine you to identify the cause of the persistent high temperature as it could be as a result of a more serious illness like an abscess at the wall of the throat or an inflammation of the epiglottis (a tissue at the rear of the throat), which can cause difficulty breathing if not treated. Also see a doctor as soon as possible if you experience difficulties when swallowing, have a hoarse voice, or are in pain.

 

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Dear doc,

Please explain what causes a sore throat.

Silas

 

Dear Silas,

In most occasions, a sore throat is associated with a viral or bacterial infection. Viruses that cause common cold such as parainfluenza and rhinovirus, as well as streptococcal bacteria are a common cause of sore throat.

A healthy person can easily catch a virus or bacterium that causes a sore throat if he or she comes into contact with droplets of fluids from a person who is infected. There are also other less common non-infectious causes of a sore throat. 

These include irritation from alcohol or cigarette smoke, allergies, breathing in pollutants in the air, and acid reflux whereby acid form the stomach flows back into the oesophagus hence causing irritation in the throat.

Breathing via the mouth instead of the nose probably due to nasal congestion can also cause irritation to the throat.

 

Dear doc,

My sister has been having a sore throat for a few days now. Can taking antibiotics help the condition get better?

Aiden

 

Dear Aiden,

Using antibiotics to treat a sore throat is normally not recommended because it may not have been caused by bacteria. Without performing tests, it may not be possible to know whether the infection is bacterial or viral.

In addition, even when bacteria are the cause of the sore throat, antibiotics may not have much of an effect on the severity or duration of the infection, and may also cause side effects like stomach upset and diarrhoea.

Excessive use of antibiotics in treatment of minor illnesses can lead to antibiotic resistance. — the antibiotics become less effective in treating serious conditions.

Antibiotics may be prescribed only in some cases, for example when the sore throat is especially severe, presence of pus on the tonsils, the lymph glands in the neck are tender, or you have a weakened immune system like in the case of HIV.

Therefore, it is not right to self-medicate with antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor.

 

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Dear doc,

My child had a sore throat and after diagnosis, I was told she has a strep throat. Please explain what it is and is it different from a simple sore throat?

Didi

 

Dear Didi,

A sore throat can at times be a symptom of a strep throat. This is a bacterial infection that can have serious complications if not treated promptly and for this reason immediate diagnosis of strep throat is important.

Though common in children of between ages five and 15, it can also affect adults. While the usual cause of a simple sore throat is a virus, a strep is an infection caused by a streptococcus bacterium which is highly contagious.

The symptoms of strep are the same as those of a simple sore throat but are usually more serious. Most obvious symptoms include a sore throat of sudden onset, body aches, high body temperature, inflamed tonsils with white patches in some cases, nausea, rash, and small red spots at the hard or soft palate (roof of the mouth).

Strep bacteria can spread to other areas and cause infection in the sinuses, middle ear, or tonsils. A quick test called rapid strep test is performed by a doctor to diagnose a strep throat. If the test turns out positive, antibiotics are prescribed to ease symptoms, speed up recovery, and prevent complications and spread of the infection to others.

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