Having a sore throat can involve a variety of sensations. Pain when talking or swallowing, the throat feeling swollen, dry, irritated, scratchy, or raw – these are some typical responses from people describing their symptoms. A sore throat is often a sign that a throat infection is present, but may also be caused by environmental factors such as breathing the dry air found in an aircraft, or from excessive yelling or screaming that often occurs when attending a noisy concert.
Viruses cause 90% of throat infections (Harvard Health, 2017). It is far less common to have a bacterial throat infection. The viruses can be spread via droplets from sneezes and coughing, or from hands that haven’t been washed and may have touched a sick person’s mouth or nose. Basic hygiene such as covering your mouth and nose if you sneeze or a cough, as well as regularly washing your hands goes a long way to stop the virus being spread. Throat infections can be divided into three different types, based on what area of the throat is affected.
Laryngitis refers to inflammation of the larynx, also known as the voice box. Your vocal cords become swollen, and this leads to you sounding hoarse or losing your voice. Symptoms can also include coughing, headache, fever, and throat pain, especially when swallowing. It is usually caused by a viral infection, such as influenza or the common cold virus, or by straining your vocal chords by long periods of loud talking or yelling.
Help your voice recover by drinking lots of water, gargling with an iodine-based gargle or with salt water, avoiding smoking, and by resting your voice as much as possible. See your doctor if your symptoms persist for longer than two weeks.
Pharyngitis is the inflammation of the area at the back of the throat (the pharynx). Symptoms include pain, a scratchy sensation in the throat, and tenderness when swallowing. It is usually caused by a virus, but in a few cases, it can be caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, which can exacerbate the symptoms. To relieve the pain and symptoms stay hydrated, gargle with salt water, rest, and avoid foods that cause pain when swallowing. Your local chemist can assist with medicines to make your symptoms more manageable. Contact your doctor if your throat pain becomes severe, or does not begin to improve after a week.
Tonsillitis is inflammation of the glands at the back of your throat, known as the tonsils. Symptoms include throat pain, fever, swollen lymph nodes, a stiff neck and red, painful tonsils with patches of white visible. It is typically caused by a virus, and in rarer cases, by bacteria. To reduce pain and fever paracetamol may be used, as well as saltwater gargles and lozenges.
Avoid alcohol, stay hydrated, and stick to soft and cool foods that will not irritate the throat further. Some cases of tonsillitis require antibiotic therapy, so be sure to consult your doctor if you experience a continual fever, severe pain on one side of the throat, or any difficulty in breathing.