Sore throats: causes, prevention and treatment
A sore throat is a pain, irritation or scratchiness of the throat that often worsens when you swallow. A sore throat may be accompanied by wider body symptoms depending on the cause.
Causes of sore throats
A sore throat may be due to several factors, including bacteria, medical conditions, or environmental irritants, and symptoms may vary depending on the cause.
An infection such as a common cold is the most common cause of a sore throat. There is no specific treatment for common colds, as antibiotics are generally not effective. Sore throats due to infections or accompanying the common cold usually resolve within eight days and further complications are uncommon.
Bacterial Throat Infections
Bacterial infections such as Streptococcus can also cause a sore throat. It can be difficult to distinguish between bacterial infections clinically, but usually resolve within one week.
Environmental irritants such as perfumes, petrol fumes, cigarette smoke, or chlorine may also be sore throat causes.
Some medical conditions, including hayfever, can also be secondary causes of sore throats. Speak to your healthcare professional for support for these conditions.
How to prevent sore throats
Hygiene practices to avoid a sore throat
Microbes responsible for causing sore throats can be transmitted through airborne droplets when someone with an infection coughs, sneezes or shares food and drink or through direct or indirect hand contact. The ease with which these contagions spread, makes good hygiene important in avoiding a sore throat.
Hand washing is one of the simplest ways to reduce the spread of contagious diseases. Use soap and water and wash for at least 40-60 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use disposable hand wipes or alcohol-based sanitisers.
Cover your mouth
Always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Teaching children to cough or sneeze into their elbow will also help reduce the spread of sore throats through the classroom.
Don’t share personal items
If someone in your house has a sore throat, don’t share drinking glasses or utensils, wash dishes in hot, soapy water or use the dishwasher.
Support your immune system
Supporting your immune system can help your body fight the infections that cause a sore throat. The immune system is a network of proteins, tissues, cells and organs that work together to protect the body from infective microorganisms and disease.
Help your immune system work at its best by:
- Sleep — Getting adequate sleep helps support your immune system and dampens your stress response, which can suppress your immune system.
- Reducing stress — Overexposure to stress hormones can have a negative impact on your immune system
- Eat a healthy diet — Eating a diet with plenty of vegetables, fresh fruit and water gives your immune systems the nutrients it needs to work well.
- Try herbal medicine — Herbal supplements such as Andrographis and Echinacea purpurea may also help to support immune function and help prevent mild upper respiratory tract infections.
Avoid environmental allergens
A sore throat may be caused by chemicals or allergens in your surrounding environment. Cigarette smoke, formaldehyde in petrol and diesel fumes, perfumes, paint or paint thinners and insecticides can irritate your throat. Prevent sore throats from environmental allergens by:
- Minimising your exposure — reducing your exposure to common environmental irritants can help reduce sore throat symptoms.
- Maintaining proper ventilation — Make sure you have proper ventilation in your workspace or home to reduce exposure to environmental irritants and encourage airflow.
- Close windows when driving — Close your car and air vents when driving, especially when in areas of high traffic, as petrol and diesel fumes contain chemicals that may trigger a sore throat.
How to treat sore throats
If a sore throat strikes, you may want to find a quick remedy to alleviate your discomfort so you can get on with your day.
Try the following remedies to fight back and alleviate your discomfort:
Although it’s tempting to continue with your daily tasks, one of the best treatments for a sore throat is to get plenty of sleep and rest. Sleep is a strong regulator of immune processes and may assist with a faster recovery.
Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated fluids. Hot water with a squeeze of lemon and dollop of honey can be soothing. Avoid smoking and eat soft, nutritious foods such as broths and soups. Sage tea has been traditionally used for throat inflammations.
Use a gargle
Gargle with warm salty water several times a day or try a specially-formulated sore throat gargle. Betadine Sore Throat Gargle and Betadine Ready to Use Sore Throat Gargle both contain povidone-iodine, an antiseptic that can kill the bacteria that may cause a sore throat.
Use a lozenge
Sucking on a throat lozenge such as Betadine Sore Throat Lozenges can be soothing. Sucking stimulates the production of saliva to moisten a dry throat. Betadine Sore Throat Lozenges contain two antibacterial agents to help relieve sore throat discomfort.
Always read the label and follow the directions for use.
Use a steamer or humidifier
Dry air, whether due to the climate or air-conditioning, can irritate your throat. Using a humidifier in your room at night, or during the day if you’re resting, can be soothing.
Horseradish has traditionally been used in Western herbal medicine for the relief of mucous congestion of the upper respiratory tract.
If you’re trying to beat a throat infection, chances are you’re also fighting a cold. Vitamin C, when taken as a regular daily supplementation may reduce the duration and severity of colds when they occur.
Finally, if your sore throat is causing pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may be suitable. Speak to your healthcare professional to see if these products are right for you. Always read the label and follow the directions for use. Incorrect use could be harmful.
When should I see a doctor?
If you’re an adult, seek medical attention if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms
- You have trouble breathing or swallowing
- You have a stiff or swollen neck
- You have a high fever
For children, in addition to the above symptoms also seek medical advice if:
- Symptoms do not improve after 48 hours
- If your child is drinking poorly for longer than 24 hours
- Unusual drooling, which might indicate an inability to swallow
- Difficulty breathing or stopping breathing when asleep
- Extreme tiredness or drowsiness
- Stopped drinking or decrease in urine frequency or decrease in wet nappies
Sore throats are a common condition that can affect your family at any age and in any season but are particularly prevalent in winter. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle may help reduce the occurrence of sore throats. If you experience a sore throat, rest, drink plenty of fluids and speak with your healthcare professional about using a povidone-iodine antiseptic solution.
Always read the label and follow the directions for use.
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MAT-AU-2203364. Dec 2022.
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