Sore Throat

A sore throat is one of the most common of all health problems. There’s no one who hasn’t had to endure a sore throat at some point in their life – more likely several times. The pain ranges from mild to severe, with difficulty swallowing in the more severe cases. In most cases, a sore throat this is the result of inflammation of the throat and pharynx. This in turn may be due to an infection, or it may be due to some irritant, such as paint fumes. There are many bacterial and viral infections that can cause inflammation of the throat, sometimes as the primary symptom, and sometimes as just one among many different symptoms. Many of these infections are upper respiratory tract infections, such as laryngitis and tonsillitis. Mononucleosis and diphtheria also often cause a sore throat. Usually however, a sore throat is merely one of the more unpleasant complications of the common cold.

Sore Throat Picture

Symptoms of Sore Throat

A sore throat is itself a symptom of some infection. This is usually an infection of the upper respiratory tract, such as the common cold, laryngitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, and more serious conditions such as diphtheria and influenza. In most cases, a sore throat is simply the symptom of a common cold, where the soreness is the result of irritation of the throat and pharynx from the nasal fluids.

Sore Throat Picture

Depending on its underlying causes, a sore throat may be accompanied by many other symptoms. These are a few common sore throat symptoms:

  • Nasal Congestion: Commonly known as a “blocked nose,” nasal congestion is a common symptom of many of the conditions that cause a sore throat. This happens when the membranes that line the nasal passages become inflamed, thus narrowing the passages and making it difficult to breathe through the nose.
  • Nasal Discharge: Rhinorrhea or a runny nose is another symptom that often accompanies a sore throat. Sometimes this may itself cause the sore throat. What happens is that the excess of mucus in the nose exits into the throat in a process known as postnasal drip. The constant irritation from the mucus can lead to a sore throat.
  • Coughing: Coughing is a common symptom of many upper respiratory tract infections, and excessive coughing can also lead to inflammation of the throat and pharynx.
  • Sneezing: Many of these infections cause irritation of the nasal lining, leading to sneezing. Some of the irritants that cause a sore throat can also irritate the nasal lining, causing a bout of sneezing.
  • Fever: More severe respiratory tract infections can affect the whole body, leading to a fever.
  • Headache: A headache often accompanies a sore throat, even in the case of minor infections such as the common cold.
  • Fatigue: Fatigue is a common sign of an infection, and is the result of the body using all its resources to fight the infection.
  • Muscle and Joint Pain: Muscle and joint pain is not very commonly associated with a sore throat, but some of the more serious infections can cause joint pain, along with fever and weakness.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: Many infections are accompanied by swollen lymph nodes, and this includes some of the conditions that cause a sore throat. Mild swelling of the lymph nodes is nothing to worry about – lymph nodes are part of the immune system and the swelling simply means that your body is fighting off the infection. However, the more serious infections can cause more severe swelling of the lymph nodes.

Causes of Sore Throat

The three main causes for sore throat are infections, irritants, and acid reflux, of which infections are probably the most common cause.

  • Infections: There are numerous infections of the upper respiratory tract that can cause a sore throat. Most of these infections are accompanied by many other symptoms besides a sore throat. Viral infections account for the majority of sore throats, with the common cold being possibly the biggest culprit. The flu and mononucleosis are two other common culprits. Bacterial infections can also cause a sore throat, with strep throat being among the more common ones. Fungal infections are quite rare, but some fungal infections (oral thrush, for example) can cause a sore throat. Infections are of course easily transmitted from one person to another, and very often members of an entire household will fall prey to an infection in quick succession. This is especially true of viral infections.
  • Irritants and Allergens: Sometimes it is not an infection that causes a sore throat, but a reaction to substances in the environment. Pollution is a common cause of sore throats – vehicular and industrial pollution are two examples. Household irritants such as paint and certain cleaning solutions can also cause a sore throat when their fumes are inhaled. Smoke, including second hand smoke, is also a common irritant. Excessive straining of the vocal cords through talking, shouting, screaming, or singing, can also lead to a sore throat. Certain types of medication are also known to irritate the throat. In some cases, cold air alone might cause a sore throat. In addition, there are many harmless substances that can cause a sore throat if a person is allergic to them. Identifying an allergen can be quite difficult – people can develop allergies to all sorts of things, and it is often difficult to find a clear link between a substance and an allergic reaction.
  • Acid Reflux: One cause of sore throats that is often ignored or forgotten is acid reflux. This is when acid from the stomach rises into the esophagus and possibly the throat. Normally, this acid is kept from rising out of the stomach, but in some cases, due to a variety of reasons, this mechanism may malfunction. Heartburn – pain and burning in the chest – is a more common symptom of acid reflux. However, frequent irritation of the throat caused by acid reflux can also lead to a sore throat.

Remedies for Sore Throat

Since a sore throat is a symptom of some underlying condition, and rarely a condition in itself, sore throat home remedies are only symptomatic treatment. This is why, if you seem to have a serious infection, you should consult a doctor, who will treat the infection itself. In the meanwhile, you can continue to use these home remedies for the sore throat pain:

  • A water salt water gargle is one of the oldest – and possibly the best - cure for a sore throat. Simply heat a glass of water, add some salt to it, gargle, and spit. You should do this first thing in the morning and last thing before you go to bed. If you can squeeze in a couple of gargles through the course of the day, so much the better.
  • When it comes to age-old home remedies for an irritated throat, the honey and ginger mixture is another great one. Simply take a small piece of ginger, crush the juice out of it, mix it with a teaspoon of honey, and swallow. Some people also recommend adding a few drops of lemon juice to this remedy.
  • Another recipe for a sore throat remedy is a mixture of honey, apple cider vinegar, and warm water. You need a tablespoon each of the honey and vinegar in a small glass of hot water. This is to be consumed, not gargled with.
  • Chamomile tea is also one of the best swollen throat remedies, and is another treatment that you can repeat several times a day.
  • Sometimes dryness can make a sore throat feel worse than it really is. Simple remedies such as steam inhalation can help in such cases. Steam inhalation will also clear your nasal passages, thus reducing the postnasal drip that is causing or aggravating the sore throat. If you can control it, avoid sleeping with your mouth open – this is a common cause of a dry, and therefore sore, throat.
  • Alcohol does dehydrate the body, but in small amounts it might actually work as an effective sore throat treatment. Whiskey on the rocks is of course ruled out, but you can have a peg of whiskey straight up, or else add it to a glass of warm water and sip it slowly. This will not only ease the pain, it will also fight the infection to some extent.
  • Garlic may not be great for your breath, but it may compensate by helping cure a sore throat. You can take a single clove of garlic and chew on it for a couple of hours. The chewing should be very light – just enough to release the chemicals inside the garlic, not to crush it completely.

Diet for Sore Throat

Although a sore throat and the other accompanying symptoms might ruin your appetite, it is important to keep eating healthy. If nothing else, have a bowl of chicken soup or mixed vegetable soup. You can keep sipping hot drinks and soups through the day – these will nourish you while simultaneously soothing your throat and clearing your nasal passages. Plenty of fluids will also keep your body hydrated and your throat moist and lubricated.

Suggestion for Sore Throat

In most cases, a sore throat is a minor problem, and home remedies, along with a little rest for both your throat and your body, will help you recover quite quickly. However, if you get recurrent sore throats or if a sore throat lasts for more than a week, you should get yourself checked by a doctor. A visit to the doctor is also advisable if the sore throat is accompanied by more serious symptoms, such as fever and body aches.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  1. Agarwal A, Gupta D, Yadav G, Goyal P, Singh PK, Singh U. An evaluation of the efficacy of licorice gargle for attenuating postoperative sore throat: a prospective, randomized, single-blind study. Anesth Analg. 2009 Jul;109(1):77-81. doi: 10.1213/ane.0b013e3181a6ad47. PubMed PMID: 19535697.
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    35 Sore Throat remedies suggested by our users
    Sore Throat Remedy Carrot Juice & Homeopathic pill
    suggested by Hope on Thursday, May 29, 2008

    The best way to get rid of a sore throat is to drink fresh carrot juice (as much as possible) and within a day or two, it should be gone. You can buy it at your local health store or juice the carrots yourself if you have a juicer. The problem with this, however, is it can be costly and time consuming (if you are using a juicer). So here is another option that I do a lot (and also use it for my daughter). I use a homeopathic "cold remedy". You can buy it at your local health store or buy it online. You have to follow the instructions just like it says. Sometimes, you have to take the "pill" once every 2 hours and sometimes it will be once every 15 minutes until it subsides... and then an hour or two thereafter till it goes away. For me, the homeopathic cold remedy works typically within 2 days... but again, you need to be religious about taking the pills. 

    Salt and lime juice for Sore Throat
    suggested by vandana on Friday, February 15, 2008

    Add salt and few drops of lime juice to warm water and gargle. It really works very well

    The Best sore throat remedy
    suggested by Jeanna on Sunday, February 3, 2008

    2tbs. apple cider vinegar, 1 tbs. honey, 4oz. hot water. The first sip or two will burn then the pain goes away. Instant relief. Repeat daily for 1 week. Even helps with strep.

    Simple Remedy for Sore Throat
    suggested by Carol on Thursday, January 24, 2008

    The simplest ever - salt water! Take 0.5 tsp of salt to a cup of lukewarm water, stir and gargle twice a day. This a very effective.

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