Have you ever felt pain in your throat or difficulty swallowing your saliva? It may likely be sore throat. A sore throat is a painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat.
Pain in the throat is one of the most common symptoms. It accounts for more than 13 million visits to doctor’s offices each year.
Most sore throats are caused by infections, or by environmental factors like dry air. Although a sore throat can be uncomfortable, it’ll usually go away on its own.
Types of sore throats
Sore throats are divided into types, based on the part of the throat they affect:
Pharyngitis affects the area right behind the mouth.
Tonsillitis is swelling and redness of the tonsils, the soft tissue in the back of the mouth.
Laryngitis is swelling and redness of the voice box, or larynx.
Sore throat symptoms
The symptoms of a sore throat can vary depending on what caused it. A sore throat can feel: scratchy, burning, raw, dry, tender, irritated.
It may hurt more when you swallow or talk. Your throat or tonsils might also look red.
Sometimes, white patches or areas of pus will form on the tonsils. These white patches are more common in strep throat than in a sore throat caused by a virus.
Causes of sore throats
Causes of sore throats range from infections to injuries. Here are the most common causes.
Colds, the flu, and other viral infections
Strep throat and other bacterial infections. Bacterial infections can also cause sore throats. The most common one is strep throat; an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Allergies. When the immune system reacts to allergy triggers like pollen, grass, and pet dander; it releases chemicals that cause symptoms like nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and throat irritation.
Excess mucus in the nose can drip down the back of the throat. This is called postnasal drip and can irritate the throat.
Dry air can suck moisture from the mouth and throat; and leave them feeling dry and scratchy. The air is most likely dry in the winter months when the heater is running.
Smoke, chemicals, and other irritants in the environment irritate the throat, including: cigarette and other tobacco smoke, air pollution, cleaning products and other chemicals.
Any injury, such as a hit or cut to the neck; can cause pain in the throat. Getting a piece of food stuck in your throat can also irritate it.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus — the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
The acid burns the esophagus and throat, causing symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux — the regurgitation of acid into your throat.
A tumor of the throat, voice box, or tongue is a less common cause of a sore throat. When a sore throat is a sign of cancer, it doesn’t go away after a few days.
Home remedies for a sore throat
You can treat most sore throats at home. Get plenty of rest to give your immune system a chance to fight the infection.
To relieve the pain of a sore throat:
Gargle with a mixture of warm water and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt.
Drink warm liquids that feel soothing to the throat; such as hot tea with honey, soup broth, or warm water with lemon. Herbal teas are especially soothing to a sore throat.
Cool your throat by eating a cold treat like a popsicle or ice cream.
Suck on a piece of hard candy or a lozenge.
Turn on a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to the air.
Rest your voice until your throat feels better.
Shop for cool mist humidifiers.
When to see a doctor
Sore throats that are caused by a viral infection usually get better on their own in two to seven days. Yet some causes of a sore throat need to be treated.