Sore Throat

Definition

A sore throat is a feeling of irritation and pain in the throat. It is due to inflammation of the throat more correctly known as pharyngitis. Most cases are due to a viral or bacterial infection of the throat. A sore throat is among the first symptoms of an upper respiratory traction (UTI) infection but can be seen with various other diseases, some of which do not even involve the throat primarily. Usually the tonsils are involved and the term tonsillopharyngitis is more correctly used to describe the condition.

Symptoms

In the true sense of the word, a sore throat is a symptom. However, the term is used interchangeably with pharyngitis which is a condition where there is inflammation of the pharynx (throat).

  • Dry burning sensation in the throat.
  • Difficulty in swallowing,
  • Foreign body sensation in the throat.
  • Pain which is aggravated by swallowing.
  • Dry throat.
  • Tonsillar swelling.
  • Hoarse voice. Vocal fatigue can be seen in chronic sore throat.
  • Cough.
  • Blood tainted spit may be present.
  • Other symptoms of infection such have fever, sneezing, body ache may be present.
  • Difficulty in breathing, more common in diphtherial infections.

Causes

Acute sore throat can be viral or bacterial. Viral infections that can cause sore throat are common cold and influenza, measles, mononucleosis, chickenpox and croup. Common bacterial infections that can cause sore throat are strep throat (group B streptococci), whooping cough (pertussis) and diphtheria. Fungal infections can cause a sore throat usually as a spread of oral thrush (mouth candida).

Non-infective forms of sore throat can be allergic. Throat irritation can be caused due to inhalation of toxic gases and smoking, chewing tobacco, spicy foods and alcohol. Pharyngitis can be seen in gastric acid reflux disease due to irritation of the pharynx due to regurgitated stomach acid. Symptoms of sore throat can be seen in cancers of the throat. Sore throat is common in immunocompromised patients. Excessive shouting can strain the muscles of the pharynx leading to sore throat.

Sore throat is more common in children due to underdeveloped immunity. People exposed to tobacco smoke actively or passively can develop sore throat. Chronic nasal or sinus infections can spread to the throat. Exposure to chemical irritants such as in factories or while using household chemicals can lead to sore throat. Sore throat infections spread easily in crowded places such as offices, child care centers and schools. Sore throat is more common in people who have allergies.

Treatment

Throat swabs may be taken to isolate the causative organism. A complete blood count (CBC) can help in detecting the type of infection whether viral or bacterial. Patients who may be diagnosed to have allergic cause behind the sore throat can be referred further to an allergist. Oncologists may be consulted if cancer is suspected.

Sore throats caused due to viral infections usually heal within a week on their own and only symptomatic treatment may be necessary. Prophylactic antibiotics use may be indicated in patients susceptible to secondary infections. Penicillins are given orally for sore throats due to bacterial infections. A course of up to 10 days may be necessary. Those patients who are allergic to penicillins can be prescribed other antibiotics.

The complete course of antibiotics is to be taken even in the absence of symptoms to prevent resistive strains of bacteria from developing and to prevent complications such as rheumatic fever. The treatment may also depend on diagnosis if the cause of sore throat is not viral or bacterial infections. Hot fluid intake, humidified air inhalation and lozenges can sooth the pharynx and provide symptomatic relief. Antipyretics and analgesics may be given as needed.

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