Having a sore throat is often a severely distressing situation as the soreness and additional symptoms accompanying it can make it difficult to swallow food and even water, talk, sleep or work efficiently. A sore throat may be caused by either a bacterial or viral infection, but other causes are also possible and quite common. The appropriate treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause for it, but natural remedies are always welcome and very likely to help ease the symptom enough to make it more bearable.
Pharyngitis, the formal denomination for a sore throat, is one of the most common medical afflictions in the world. Once it installs, it may resolve itself in a couple of days, or require medical treatment and improve over the course of a week or more. Any additional symptom such as redness in the tonsils, secretions from the throat or nose, fever, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose or hoarseness contributes to identifying the cause and choosing the appropriate treatment option. However, antibiotic treatment should only be taken with prescription, following a medical examination.
A sore throat is often a symptom of a cold. A cold is a viral infection caused by various virus strains infecting the upper respiratory tract, nose, throat, sinuses, and producing a variety of symptoms, throat soreness included. Strep throat is a common cause for sore throat. Antibiotic treatment is not generally recommended with infections of a viral nature, unless your doctor may fear severe complications, bacterial pneumonia, for example, which may develop as a result of a viral respiratory tract infection such as a cold or the flu.
Overall, treatment options depend on the underlying causes of throat soreness. Generally, a sore throat may be caused by the following:
1) Viral infection: common cold viruses, influenza viruses, adenovirus, mononucleosis, herpes simplex virus are the most common culprits. See Influenza: Causes, Types, Symptoms and Treatment.
2) Bacterial infection: streptococci causing streptococcal pharyngitis, pneumococcus etc.
3) Fungal infection: Candida albicans is a common cause of pharyngitis and sore throat.
4) Gastroesophageal reflux disease: acid reflux rising into the esophagus may cause irritation and inflammation of the back of the throat, leading to soreness.
5) Other causes for sore throat may include: prolonged exposure to cold air, dry air, seasonal allergies, certain medication etc.
A) Cold air exposure causes a sort of thermal irritation of the back of the throat, potentially resulting in redness and soreness, in other words a sore throat. If this is the case, changing to a moderately warm, sufficiently humid environment or drinking warm liquids (herbal tea) can almost instantly reduce soreness and reverse the already superficial irritation.
B) Dry air can also prove problematic. Our airways are naturally moist and we rely on sufficient air humidity and a sufficient intake of liquids to help keep them so. When the mucous membrane lining our throat dries out, we may start experiencing a feeling of tightness in the back of the throat, or dryness. This, in turn, engenders irritation, inflammation and discomfort, soreness.
This is fairly common during winter when we tend to stay indoors and warm up using radiators which dry out the air in the room significantly. Simply opening a window every now and then for a couple of minutes or, even better, using a humidifier or vaporiser can improve throat soreness. This is also a great tip for anyone with laryngospasms (see Laryngospasms: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment).
C) Seasonal allergies. I have noticed that my throat is particularly dry and sore during spring, when pollen allergies tend to act up. Seasonal allergies cause inflammation in the body and a tingling or scraping sensation in the throat, redness and itching. For me, the best solution is to drink sufficient liquids to prevent my mouth and throat from becoming dry.
As a result, I always have a bottle of water with me and take small sips whenever I feel the need to. In addition to this, I take 1 g of vitamin C every morning, because that’s when symptoms are at their strongest and manage to keep my condition under control. Since I have been taking vitamin C, I no longer need antihistamines.
Treatment options and remedies. Throat soreness is a perfectly manageable symptom because that’s what it is: not a disease, but a symptom. Whether or not it is caused by an underlying infection determines our treatment options. Some may need antibiotics, other pain-relieving medication, while many people do great with natural remedies alone. Different causes ask for different treatment therapies and choosing the right one for us depends on the cause behind our sore throat problem. Some of the most efficient solutions to a sore throat include:
1) Staying hydrated. Being adequately hydrated is crucial for a fast and easy recovery from illness. Whatever the cause of one’s sore throat might be, it is important to drink plenty of liquids to keep our body working and able to help us (flush out toxins, regulate body temperature through sweating, keep mucous membranes moist and so on). For instance, drinking enough water (herbal teas, even fresh fruit juices, depending on the situation) keeps the mucous membranes lining our respiratory system moist.
This allows them to remove bacteria, viruses and debris from our respiratory system and aid in the fight against infection. Sufficient water ensuring moisture prevents irritation and discomfort of sensitive mucous membranes such as the lining of our throat. Mucous membranes such as our throat lining are meant to be moist so they catch viruses and bacteria trying to get into our system and infect us. When dry, they put us more at risk for infection.
2) Drinking warm liquids. Drinking warm liquids such as herbal teas, vegetable stock or chicken broth can help reduce the irritation, redness and discomfort of a sore throat. While this won’t do much to actively fight off an infection, it will help keep us hydrated and manage throat soreness efficiently. I find this is a great solution for throat problems relating to low humidity and cold air especially.
3) Ice cubes. Some people find temporary relief from throat soreness by letting ice cubes melt in their mouth. The cold helps numb the back of the throat and temporarily reduce discomfort, redness and inflammation. However, it is best to be careful because this practice can amplify symptoms and even encourage a sore throat.
4) Tea. Herbal infusions are a fairly useful remedy for sore throat. In addition to being warm and soothing for the throat lining and helping keep it moist, many herbal teas contain strong antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that can promote a faster recovery and reduce the severity of other symptoms as well. Find your favorite tea in the Herbs and Spices page. For me, chamomile tea works best if I get a cold and a sore throat, but really any tea is good as long as it doesn’t contain compounds that may further irritate the throat (such as caffeine in green tea).
5) Lemon, propolis and honey. Freshly squeezed lemon juice compliments most teas and, more important, it is a good source of vitamin C to help build up our immunity and clear mucus. Lemon juice has astringent properties so it helps remove any lingering mucus from the throat. Honey is, in my opinion, essential for any throat problem. Its thick consistency covers the throat lining and creates a sort of protective coating that allows it to heals itself, reducing pain and irritation. Not to mention all honey varieties contain natural antibacterial agents. See more Honey varieties.
Propolis is a wonderful antibacterial, but also a potential allergen, especially for people with extensive pollen allergies. If you are allergic to propolis, there is a big chance you are allergic to honey too, and vice-versa, so check before you eat.
After I’ve eaten and had plenty of liquids to drink, I like to have a teaspoon of acacia honey with propolis and wait about one hour before eating or drinking anything else. Propolis acacia honey is by far the best for me, helping me get rid of a very persistent throat infection of bacterial nature.
6) Pain relieving medication. When there is an infection involved, fever and discomfort may become debilitating. Paracetamol, ibuprofen and similar pain relieving medication can help keep various symptoms under control and allow us to eat and drink sufficient liquids, encouraging our recovery. Nevertheless, never exceed safe, recommended doses because the side effects are not worth the benefits of over-medicating.
7) Antibiotics. Throat soreness caused by a bacterial infection is particularly troublesome and may require antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics may only be prescribed by a medical professional, following an examination to confirm the bacterial nature of the infection. Bacterial infections of the respiratory system are quite infectious, prone to complications and lenghtier recoveries as well as easily transmittable through saliva, mucus secretions, sneezes and so on. A sign of a bacterial infection of the throat is getting white lines or spots on the tonsils and fever. This requires an immediate visit to the doctor’s office.
Conclusion. Having a sore throat is difficult enough without having to suffer complications. This is why it is so important to address it adequately, take proper care of ourselves, stay hydrated, eat well, take our vitamins and, if needed, the medication prescribed by our doctor. Recovery may take as little as three days or as long as a couple of weeks. Fortunately, a sore throat is a perfectly manageable symptom on itself, requiring very little effort from our part.