Scratchy throat, difficulty swallowing, stabbing pain... a sore throat can vary in intensity. Find out how to ease it.
An overview of the throat
When referring to the throat, this usually relates to a specific region posterior to the oral cavity: the oropharynx. This structure is located at the junction of the digestive and respiratory tracts. It connects the mouth and the oesophagus, on the one hand, and the nasal cavities and the larynx on the other. It is the visible portion at the back of the mouth when it is open wide. Given its location, the food that is swallowed and the air that is breathed travel through it.
The larynx extends to the trachea, a cartilaginous tube allowing the passage of air to the bronchi and then to the lungs during respiration. It acts as a dispatcher, sending air and food to the appropriate conduit. It is also involved in phonation, or sound production, via the vocal cords.
The palatine tonsils are almond-shaped masses located on either side of the posterior end of the oral cavity. They are the bulges visible when the mouth is open wide. They are the first line of protection against harmful agents such as viruses and bacteria.
A throat inflammation is often referred to as pharyngitis, laryngitis, or tonsilitis, depending on the affected structure. These conditions are often at the root of a sore throat.
The causes of a sore throat
A sore throat is often the result of a viral infection (caused by a virus) or a bacterial infection (caused by bacteria).
In the case of a cold, a sore throat often lasts for a few days. No treatment is needed, as the viral infection will heal on its own. A cold can be suspected when a sore throat is accompanied by the following symptoms:
In the case of a bacterial infection, an antibiotic treatment may be required. Streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) is an example of a throat infection requiring antibiotic treatment. The affected person will often present the following signs and symptoms:
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- difficulty swallowing
- redness and white patches in the throat
Other conditions can also manifest themselves by a sore throat. If it persists, see a doctor to obtain a diagnosis.
Analgesics found over the counter, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, are interesting options. They provide quick and effective relief for a sore throat.
Before taking this type of product, always speak to your pharmacist, who will assess if this is a suitable product for you, and provide dosage information.
In the case of a sore throat, pharmacists often recommend taking lozenges. There are several brands and flavours available. For optimal relief, choose lozenges that contain an anesthetic, such as benzocaine.
If you have diabetes, choose a sugarless lozenge. Ask the pharmacist for advice or look for an "E" label, which appears on the price tag. If the product has an "E" label, you shouldn't use it.
Anesthetic products, in gargle or spray formats, can be used to relieve a sore throat. Some are available over the counter, while others are prescribed.
The effects of these medications are almost immediate, but temporary. Lozenges are often preferred, since they have a local effect that lasts a little longer.
"Old wives' cures"
Ice cream, honey, lemon juice, chicken soup, sucking on an ice cube, gargling with salt water... many families swear by their homemade miracle cure against a sore throat.
Although their effectiveness is debatable, or unproven, it is unlikely that these methods would be damaging to health. You should still speak to your pharmacist to obtain some wise—and reliable—advice!
When to see a doctor
In most cases, it is not necessary to see a doctor for a sore throat. The symptom generally goes away on its own at the same time as the infection that caused it. However, it is advisable to see a doctor if the following circumstances occur:
- If the sore throat is accompanied by a fever that has lasted longer than 48 hours.
- If it get worse instead of better.
- If it lasts longer than five to seven days.
- If it is accompanied by other unusual symptoms: difficulty breathing or swallowing, excessive secretion of saliva, appearance of a rash, swelling of the neck or tongue, inability to move the neck or to open the mouth, etc.
Speak to your pharmacist for additional information about sore throat and its treatments.