A sore throat is a common problem and most of the time it is acute. This means that it is intense but short lived. However, there are cases where a sore throat can be recurrent or persistent in which case it is referred to as chronic. A sore throat is a symptom and the exact underlying cause needs to be identified and treated to reduce the severity and cure a sore throat. Some simple remedies can also be helpful but does not exclude the need for prescription medication when a doctor deems it necessary.
Why does a sore throat occur?
In order to treat any condition, it is important to first understand the root cause. Successful treatment and cure can only be achieved by targeting the causative condition. A sore throat is only a symptom of discomfort or pain in the throat. Most of the time this is due to pharyngitis which means inflammation of the throat. However, there are uncommon instances where the sensation of a sore throat may arise without any throat inflammation.
Infections are by far the most common cause of acute pharyngitis. From a viral infection like the common cold to bacterial infections like infected tonsils (tonsillitis), most of us experience a sore throat due to these infections. Injury and irritation of the throat can occur without an infection. For example, overuse of the voice by talking for long periods or shouting can lead to a sore throat.
Another lesser known yet common cause of sore throat is acid reflux. In severe cases and particularly when lying flat, the stomach acid can reach as high as the throat and mouth. This acid irritates and damages the tissue of the throat thereby leading to a sore throat (reflux pharyngitis). Often the sore throat is worse upon waking and in the morning as acid reflux tends to worsen when sleeping and especially at night.
There are a host of other possible causes of a sore throat that also needs to be considered. Without diagnosing the underlying cause, treating and even curing a sore throat can be difficult.
Read more on causes of sore throat.
Treatment and Remedies for a Sore Throat
Treatment should always directed at the underlying cause of a sore throat once it is identified. For example, bacterial pharyngitis requires antibiotics and the entire course needs to be completed at prescribed. The choice of treatment is determined by a medical professional after thorough examination and diagnosis of the underlying cause. However, there are a number of different non-drug remedies that may help. These remedies should not replace medical treatment.
Salt Water Gargle
A widely used and age old remedy is salt water. It can be used as a gargle to help soothe the throat and remove any irritants on the lining of the throat. To some degree it may have a mild antimicrobial activity but should not replace relevant drugs like antibiotics.
Salt water is a quick and affordable remedy. One teaspoon of table salt should be dissolved in a glass of luke warm water. The solution can then be used as a gargle and should not be drank like a beverage. Regularly gargling with a saltwater solution is helpful and it can even be used as often as once every hour in an acute sore throat.
Rest the Voice and Throat
Using the throat is unavoidable as air moves through it with breathing as does food and fluids with swallowing. However, the voice can be rested easily. Try not to speak at all or at the very least minimize speaking drastically. A low volume or whispering volume will strain the voice less than talking loudly or shouting.
Although swallowing is necessary, the choice of food can also assist with reducing strain of the throat. Softer foods are usually better tolerated. Do not consume very hot foods and fluids but warm edibles is often well tolerated. Many people find soft ice cream to be soothing as the cold can help reduce inflammation temporarily.
It is important to drink sufficient fluid and to stay hydrated. However, when it comes to a sore throat this can be particularly important. Fluids can soothe the throat, and this applies to both cool and warm liquids. It can also help to flush any irritants in the throat, like stomach acid. Being well hydrated will also ensure that throat secretions are thin.
The key to remaining well hydrated is to hydrate frequently and preferably with water or an ORS (oral rehydrating solution). An adult needs at least 2 litres (about 68 ounces) of fluid daily and an ORS provides the optimum concentration of electrolytes. Some drinks can irritate the throat or worsen the condition causing a sore throat and should therefore be avoided.
Avoid Inhaling Smoke
Tobacco smoke is well known for its harmful effects on the entire body. The throat is particularly irritated as it is exposed to the smoke traveling down the airway. Tobacco smoking should be stopped to reduce further throat irritation in pharyngitis. Even second hand (passive) smoking should be avoided.
Smokers are at a greater risk of experiencing throat irritation, contracting throat infections and have worse acid reflux which can injure the throat tissue. However, it is not only tobacco smoke that can irritate the throat. Smoke from any source, like wood fires and industries, needs to be avoided.
Read more on smoker’s sore throat.
Antacids and PPIs
A sore throat due to acid reflux is very common and should not be overlooked as a possible cause of a persistent or recurrent sore throat. There are a host of dietary and lifestyle changes that may help ease acid reflux. Antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are very useful in managing acid reflux.
Antacids help with neutralizing the stomach acid which can cause significant damage to the tissue in the throat. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a commonly used drug for acid reflux that reduces stomach acid secretion. However, these drugs should not be used for prolonged periods of time unless prescribed by a doctor.