Sore throat season is here
Sore throats caused by common viruses typically need to run their course; however, there are supportive treatments that can help alleviate the bothersome symptoms.
While common viruses responsible for colds and flu cause most sore throats, there may be other causative reasons to consider as well. These include mouth breathing, post-nasal drip, fungus (“thrush”), bacteria, and even reflux. Because of these various causes, it is necessary to determine the reason of the sore throat in order to guarantee successful treatment.
Sore throats caused by common viruses typically need to run their course; however, there are supportive treatments that can help alleviate the bothersome symptoms:
Another cause of sore throat can be thrush. Thrush is a fungal infection that appears with white patchy areas in the mouth and on the tongue. It is due to the overgrowth of Candida, or yeast, which naturally occurs in the body. Babies and older adults are most susceptible to thrush, but it can occur at any age. In babies, it is usually caused by underdeveloped immune systems. Other common causes include the use of inhaled, oral steroids (used for the treatment of breathing disorders), immunosuppressive therapy such as chemotherapy, and diseases such as diabetes and HIV. Treatment of thrush includes a liquid antifungal called nystatin, which will apply directly to the thrush spots. It is typically “swished” around in the mouth, and then swallowed so that the liquid can cover all the areas in the mouth before oral ingestion. If this treatment does not alleviate the fungal infection, a more potent antifungal, such as Diflucan®, may be prescribed.
- Rest – resting the voice helps to calm the irritation of the throat
- Comforting foods and drinks – warm tea with honey and broth soothes the throat. Cold drinks and popsicles can provide some comfort, as well.
- Saltwater gargle – one teaspoon of salt per glass of water
- Humidifier – humidifying the air, especially in the bedroom at night, will calm sore throats caused by mouth breathing because dry air is a natural irritant to the nasal and throat passages.
- Lozenges and sprays – help to numb a sore throat and therefore alleviate pain. Chloraseptic® is available in both forms, and zinc lozenges and sprays (Zicam®) have also been used for sore throat and cold symptoms. Always use caution with lozenges to reduce choking hazard.
- Stop smoking – and stay away from smoke, which is an irritant.
- Pain relievers – acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®) taken orally can provide relief.
Decongestants – such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®), can alleviate sore throat symptoms caused by congested nasal passages, which interrupt breathing through the nose.
- Antihistamines and expectorants – such as Zyrtec® and Mucinex® can help with post-nasal drip. Post-nasal drip occurs when excess mucous is produced by the sinuses and drains down, or accumulates in, the throat. The drainage sometimes causes cough and irritation, which can lead to sore throat.
If a sore throat is associated with other, more severe symptoms or has a sudden onset, it could be even more serious. It is necessary to consult a physician if fever, white patches in the throat, or a stiff/sore neck accompanies the sore throat, or if it lasts more than a week. All of these symptoms may indicate that there is a bacterial cause, which is most likely from infection with streptococcus, which causes “strep” throat.
While strep throat is most common in children, adults can become infected as well, especially if there has been exposure to someone with a known diagnosis. The bacteria that cause strep throat are also the bacteria that are responsible for rheumatic fever. It is easily treated with antibiotics, but it is of utmost importance to have it diagnosed and treated thoroughly to prevent the progression to rheumatic fever. Testing for strep throat begins in the doctor’s office with a test called a “rapid strep test.” The rapid strep test is just that. Results are fast so that treatment can begin immediately.
Treatment of strep throat consists of antibiotics such as penicillin or erythromycin. These provide reduction of symptoms, shorten the length of illness, and help eliminate the spread of infection to others. As we have all heard, it is very important to finish all antibiotics! It is especially true in the case of strep throat. Missing even one or two doses may not completely alleviate the infection and therefore the risk of more serious complications arises. So, as always, take antibiotics until they are all gone!
Finally, reflux of gastric contents and gastric acid to the upper part of the digestive tract may cause sore throat. This condition is called Laryngopharyngeal reflux or extraesophageal reflux. Treatment of this disorder consists of the use of proton pump inhibitors such as Prilsoec® and Prevacid®, which act to reduce stomach acid and therefore reduce the reflux and the causative irritation.
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"Sore throat season is here"
Tamara Dulin, R.Ph., is a registered pharmacist with Nightingale Home Health Care in Carmel, Indiana. A 1991 graduate of Butler University College of Pharmacy, she has spent the majority of her career in consulting. She is a past president of the Ind...