Sore throats. Symptoms, causes, remedies and when to see the doctor
Sore throats are a symptom commonly associated with infections such as the cold or the flu. They can be triggered by a weakened immune system, but they can also be caused by extenuating illnesses such as hay fever or self-inflicted pollutants like cigarette smoke. Our immune system experts examine the underlying causes of sore throats and recommend herbal alternatives to soothe any discomfort. If you have any questions, feel free to ask using our Q&A service.
Sore throat isn’t a disease
Bacterial infections that cause sore throats Mononucleosis are sometimes treated with antibiotics. But antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, the cause of most illnesses that result in a sore throat. In that case, your best response is self-care measures including rest and plenty of liquids.
A sore throat — known medically as pharyngitis — usually occurs along with other signs and symptoms. These can vary considerably, depending on the type of infection you have. Most often, a sore throat accompanies a viral infection, such as a common cold or the flu. You can usually distinguish between the two based on your sore throat symptoms.
Causes of sore throat
Most sore throats are caused by viruses; the same germs that cause colds and flu. A much smaller number are due to bacterial infections. Viruses and bacteria both enter your body through your mouth or nose — either because you breathe in particles that are released into the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or because you have handtohand contact with an infected person or use shared objects such as utensils, towels, toys, doorknobs or a telephone. Touch your eyes or nose after such contact and you’re likely to become sick yourself.
Because the germs that cause sore throats are contagious, they can spread easily wherever large numbers of people congregate: schools, day cares and offices. Even so, not all sore throats result from viral or bacterial infections. Other common causes of sore throat include:
Dryness. Dry indoor air, especially in winter when rooms tend to be overheated, can make your throat feel rough and scratchy, particularly in the morning when you first wake up. Breathing through your mouth — often because of chronic nasal congestion — can also cause a dry, sore throat.
Pollution and other irritants. Outdoor air pollution can cause ongoing throat irritation. But indoor pollution — especially tobacco smoke — is an even greater cause of chronic sore throat. What’s more, inhaling secondhand smoke is often just as damaging as smoking itself. Smokeless tobacco, alcohol and spicy foods can also inflame your throat.
Air conditioning. In an out from cold to hot and vice versa. Also beware of air conditioning systems that are not properly cleaned as they carry bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This occurs when stomach acid backs up into your food pipe (oesophagus). Normally, a circular band of muscle (lower oesophageal sphincter) acts as a one-way valve, allowing food and fluid to pass into the stomach while blocking acid from coming up into the oesophagus.
But if the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can back up, irritating your throat as well as your oesophagus. Throat irritation caused by GERD doesn’t occur with other symptoms of a viral illness, and it tends to be persistent, rather than lasting just a few days.
Risk factors and sore throat
Although anyone can get a sore throat, some factors make you more susceptible to throat problems. These factors include:
- Age. Children and teens are most likely to develop sore throats. In the United States, children between ages 5 and 18 may have as many as five sore throats a year, whereas adults have less than half that number. Children are also far more likely to have strep throat, the most common bacterial infection associated with a sore throat.
- Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke, whether primary or secondary, contains hundreds of toxic chemicals that can irritate the lining of your throat.
- Allergies. If you have seasonal allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dust, molds or pet dander, you’re more likely to develop a sore throat than are people who don’t have allergies.
- Exposure to chemical irritants. Particulate matter in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, as well as common household chemicals, can cause throat irritation.
- Chronic or frequent sinus infections. Drainage from nose or sinus infections can cause throat infections as well.
- Living or working in closed quarters. Infections spread easily anywhere people gather — daycares, classrooms, offices, prisons and military installations.
- Poor hygiene. Washing your hands carefully and often is the best way to prevent many viral and bacterial infections.
- Lowered immunity. You’re more susceptible to infections in general if your resistance is low. Common causes of lowered immunity include diseases or even fatigue and poor diet.
Herbs that help for sore throat
- Keep your immune system strong by taking a maintenance dose of Echinaforce® (15 drops once daily) if you are prone to coughs and colds in the winter.
- Sucking a lozenge or taking a throat-calming syrup will coat a raw or inflamed throat, making it less reactive to irritants. Try Santasapina® Lozenges.
- At the first tell-tale tickle at the back of the throat, try A.Vogel Echinaforce Sore throat spray, which contains two fresh herbs, Echinacea purpurea and Sage (Salvia officinalis). They provide effective levels of antibacterial and antiviral activity. Quick action, in many cases, can help alleviate if not remove the symptoms.
Lifestyle changes for sore throat
- Reduce your intake of dairy foods
- Drink plenty of still water (warm if you prefer)
- Don’t stay in stuffy rooms or expose yourself to cigarette smoke
- Enjoy the fresh air but wrap up warmly and don’t expose your throat to cold winds
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