What causes a sore throat?
A sore throat can have many causes including:
- Common viruses, and even the viruses that cause mononucleosis (mono) and the flu, can cause a sore throat. Some viruses can also produce blisters in the mouth and throat (“aphthous stomatitis”).
- Breathing through the mouth can produce throat dryness and soreness.
- Sinus drainage (post nasal drip) may cause a sore throat.
- A sore throat can also be caused by bacteria. The two most common bacteria to cause a sore throat are Streptococcus (which causes strep throat) and Arcanobacterium haemolyticum. Arcanobacterium causes sore throats mainly in young adults and is sometimes associated with a fine red rash.
- Sore throat appearing after treatment with antibiotics, chemotherapy, or other immune-compromising medications may be due to Candida, commonly known as “thrush.”
- A sore throat lasting for more than two weeks can be a sign of a serious illness, such as throat cancer or AIDS.
What can I do at home for a sore throat?
Generally, sore throats must run their course (exception, strep throat will be addressed below.)
- Salt water gargles, hard candies, sprays for example, Chloraseptic) and lozenges can provide temporary pain relief. (Caution: Lozenges and hard candy are a choking hazard for children. Avoid their use in young children.)
- A humidifier may be helpful in relieving symptoms, especially in sore throats caused by mouth breathing and dry air.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help control the pain.
- For adults, if your nose is plugged, nasal sprays such as Afrin may be used for two to three days to prevent mouth breathing. It is NOT a good idea to use these products for more than a couple of days; you may become dependent on them.
- Other decongestant products, such as Sudafed, may be helpful.
If you have health problems such as heart disease or high blood pressure, contact your health care professional before using these products.
Gargle with warm salt water to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort:
- Gargle at least once each hour with 1tsp (5g) of salt dissolved in 8fl oz of warm water.
- If you have postnasal drip, gargle often to prevent more throat irritation.
Prevent dehydration. Fluids may help thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help decrease throat irritation.
Use a vaporizer or humidifier in your bedroom.
- Warm or cool mist may help you feel more comfortable by soothing the swollen air passages. It may also relieve hoarseness. However, don’t let your room become uncomfortably cold or very damp.
- Use a shallow pan of water to provide moisture in the air through evaporation if you don’t have a humidifier. Place the pan in a safe location where no one will trip on it or fall into it.
Do not smoke or use other tobacco products and avoid secondhand smoke. For more information, see the topic Quitting Tobacco Use.
If you suspect that problems with stomach acid may be causing your sore throat, see the topic Heartburn.
Consider taking nonprescription medicine for your symptoms.
- Use nonprescription throat lozenges.
- Some nonprescription throat lozenges, such as Sucrets Maximum Strength or Spec-T, are safe and effective and have medicine (local anesthetic) that numbs the throat to soothe pain.
- Regular cough drops may also help.
- Use a decongestant.
- Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through. They also help relieve a runny nose and postnasal drip, which can cause a sore throat.
- Decongestants can be taken orally or used as decongestant nasal sprays. Oral decongestants (pills) are probably more effective and provide longer relief but may cause more side effects.
- Don’t give decongestants to a child younger than 2 unless you’ve checked with the doctor first. If your child’s doctor tells you to give a medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do.