SORE throats are common for this time of year.
Although a nuisance, it's easy to ignore a sore throat – although sometimes, it needs care and attention.
Sore throats have dozens of causes.
You may find yourself saying, "I'm just run down", or "It's that time of the year".
Granted, they usually last only two to seven days.
But depending on the infection, sometimes it can worsen, hurt when you swallow, or be accompanied by other symptoms that make it hard to work – a stuffy head, fever or fatigue.
Children should also be paid close attention to, in case their symptoms quickly develop into something else.
But generally, sore throats are easy to relieve and go away on their own.
What causes sore throats?
- Viral infections: This is what will make your throat hurt more when you swallow. The sore throat is often accompanied by other cold symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, and fever. You should try and keep away from others to prevent more people getting unwell. Viruses that cause them include laryngitis, tonsillitis, strep throat, and glandular fever.
- Covid-19: A sore throat has also been identified as a common symptom of Covid-19. The NHS does not list this as one of the viruses main features, but the World Health Organization does. If it is Covid, it is likely to be with other symptoms like a loss of taste or smell, a cough, a fever, a runny nose or sneezing. Try and get a test on the NHS and stay away from others until you know the result.
- Smoking: It's always worth trying to kick the habit, which is a leading cause of death in the UK. People who vape also complain of a sore throat, because they still get that nicotine "throat hit".
- Pollution: The British Lung Foundation says if you’ve been breathing in polluted air for days or weeks at a time, you might start to notice a dry throat or a cough. You might also feel short of breath, wheezy or have an itchy or runny nose. Indoor air pollution, caused by things like cleaning chemicals, open fires and candles, is linked to increased risk of pneumonia, COPD, lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.
- Allergies: Allergies, such as to pollen, dust or pets, is linked to a sore throat. It can cause what Healthline describe as a "postnatal drip" – when congestion in the nose and sinuses drains down to the throat, causing tickling or scratchy pain.
- Cancer: Be aware that in rare cases, a sore throat is a sign of throat cancer. If it doesn't go away, and there is pain, it could be the disease. Other symptoms of throat cancer include a change in voice, trouble swallowing, a lump in your neck and weight loss.
When should you not ignore a sore throat?
The NHS says see a GP if:
- Your sore throat does not improve after a week
- You often get sore throats
- You're worried about your sore throat
- You have a sore throat and a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
- You have a weakened immune system – for example, because of diabetes or chemotherapy
Call 999 if you or your child:
- Have difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Are drooling – this can be a sign of not being able to swallow
- Are making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
- Have severe symptoms and are getting worse quickly
How do I get rid of a sore throat?
Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water, but avoid hot drinks or spicy food as this may aggravate your sore throat more.
It's best to stick to cool and soft foods.
As with all infections, plenty of rest is vital in the road to recovery. Avoid going to places that may be smoky, for example a bonfire or home with a smoker.
A tip that works well with kids is eating cool and foods (such as ice cream), and sucking on lollipops or hard sweets – but make sure you don’t give them anything too small as they can present choking risks.
A pharmacist can help with finding medicines to ease discomfort, including tablets and sprays.
Normally a person with a sore throat won't need antibiotics, unless the cause of a bacterial infection.
You can also try the method of gargling warm salty water because it acts as a natural antiseptic. It's not recommended for children. To do this:
- Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (warm water helps salt dissolve).
- Gargle with the solution, then spit it out (do not swallow it).
- Repeat as often as you like.
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