Why does my throat ache?
Throat ache can be caused due to a number of conditions. These are classified into types, based on the part of the throat gets affected. The most common conditions that tend to cause throat pain are laryngitis and tonsillitis.
- Pharyngitis: Pharyngitis or sore throat is a condition characterized by pain, scratchiness or irritation of the throat that usually worsens when a person tries to swallow. Pharyngitis or sore throat is generally caused by a viral infection such as cold or flu.
- Laryngitis: It is the condition of swelling and redness of the larynx aka voice box.
- Tonsillitis: Tonsils are situated at the back of the throat. They are collections of lymphoid tissue and form a part of the immune system. The tonsils trap germs and prevent them from entering your airways. However, the tonsils sometimes get affected and get inflamed and cause a lot of pain in the throat.
What are the symptoms of throat ache?
The symptoms of throat ache or sore throat may vary depending on the underlying cause. However, there are certain common symptoms. Some of those are:
- Painful throat
- Scratchy sensation or irritation in the throat
- Difficulty in speaking and swallowing
- Hoarse voice
- Swelling and/or pain in neck and jaw
- Swelling in tonsils
If an infection is responsible for sore throat/throat ache, then it might cause other symptoms such as:
- Nasal congestion
- Body aches
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- White patches or pus in tonsils (in cases of viral infection)
What are the causes of throat ache?
Some of the most common causes of throat ache are:
- Viral infections: Viral infections are responsible for most cases of throat ache or sore throat. Some of the most common viral infections that lead to the sore throat are the common cold, influenza (or flu). measles, mumps, chickenpox, croup and mononucleosis.
- Bacterial infections: Strep throat is a common bacterial infection that leads to a sore throat. It is caused by exposure to streptococcus bacteria. Kids are at a greater risk of strep throat than adults. Other bacterial infections that can lead to the sore throat are tonsilitis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
- Exposure to allergens: Exposure to certain allergens (pollen, dust, pollutants and pet dander) can trigger an immune reaction that may lead to symptoms including sore throat.
- Dry air: Breathing in dry air can lead to depletion of moisture in the throat. Persistent exposure to the dry throat may lead to scratchiness and contribute to a sore throat.
- Smoke, chemicals, and other irritants: Exposure to smoke from cigarette, air pollutants and certain chemicals can cause irritation and lead to a sore throat.
- Injury: A sore throat may also result from an injury. The throat can be injured by a hit on the neck, talking loudly, or when the food gets stuck while swallowing.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a condition in which the acid moves in the upward direction from the stomach into the oesophagus. This acid damages the oesophagus and throat and lead to symptoms such as heartburn, acid reflux and sore throat.
- Tumour: A sore throat may also result from a tumour of tongue, throat or voice box. However, it is a rare cause.
How a throat ache is diagnosed?
To diagnose the cause of throat ache or sore throat, your physician may:
- Ask certain questions related to the symptoms you are experiencing
- Inspect the throat using an instrument, he or she may also inspect ear and nasal passages
- Gently examine the neck to check for swelling in lymph nodes
- Use a stethoscope to listen to breathing
A physician may also take a sample of throat secretions with a swab. The swab is then used for rapid antigen test to detect streptococcal bacteria. Your doctor may also carry out a throat culture test depending on the outcome of the antigen test.
Compared to a rapid antigen test, a throat culture test is more accurate. However, throat culture test takes more time (24 to 48 hours) to provide results while the antigen test gives results within minutes. In certain cases, a molecular test may also be recommended to test for streptococcal bacteria.
How a throat ache is treated?
The treatment for a throat ache usually depends on the cause contributing to that condition.
- Bacterial infection: If throat ache is caused by a bacterial infections (such as strep throat), then antibiotics may be prescribed by the physician. However, it is extremely important to complete the antibiotic course even if you experience relief from pain and other symptoms. Not completing the course can increase the likelihood of worsening of infection. The same is also true for children. Not completing the course can put a child at an increased risk of severe kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.
- Viral Infection: Throat ache caused by a viral infection usually resolves and subsides on its own. Usually, no medication is required to treat throat ache in cases of viral infection. However, pain relief medication such as Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be taken to ease the pain. Mild paediatric versions of pain relief medications (except aspirin) can be given to kids as well.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): A physician may prescribe medications that regulate stomach acid to people experiencing throat ache as a result of GERD. Antacids (such as Mylanta, Tums, and Maalox) may be prescribed to neutralise stomach acid. Similarly, medications that reduce or block stomach acid production such as ranitidine, cimetidine, famotidine, lansoprazole, and omeprazole may also be prescribed.
What are the medicines that treat throat ache?
Medication for a sore throat is usually prescribed by a physician after diagnosing the cause. However, certain OTC medication can provide relief from pain. These medications include aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.
You can also consider cough syrup, Low-dose corticosteroids, throat lozenges or sore throat spray to get relief from sore throat. However, aspirin shouldn't be given to kids due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition that is associated with damaged brain and liver.
Are there any side effects?
Penicillin, used to treat strep infection, has a number of side effects. They are nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and headache. A person may also experience white patches inside the mouth or throat and a swollen, black and hairy tongue. Antibiotics in general can cause severe diarrhea and stomach cramps.
A person on antibiotics may also experience severe allergic reactions in the lips, tongue, face and throat. Ibuprofen can cause dizziness, nervousness and ringing sensation in the ears in addition to the symptoms already mentioned above. Cough syrups can cause drowsiness, sleep problems, headache and vision problems.
What are the post-treatment guidelines?
There are a number of guidelines that a person can follow even after he/she has taken medications to deal with throat pain. A person should drink enough fluids to keep the throat moist, include comforting foods broth, caffeine-free tea and warm water with honey to care for the throat and also gargle with salt water.
He/she should avoid talking too much, use a cool air-humidifier to keep the air moist and avoid coming in contact with irritants like cigarette smoke and other products. Tonsillectomy is generally performed in children. A child undergoing this surgery should take enough rest and also drink lots of water.
How long does it take to recover?
Throat pain due to strep throat can be treated with antibiotics. In this case, the throat pain may subside within 48 hours. A sore throat does not require medications if it is caused by a viral infection. It generally lasts for five to seven days and so the accompanying throat pain will also subside after that period. A child may require about 7-10 days to recover from a tonsillectomy.
What is the price of the treatment in India?
Ibuprofen, which is used to treat throat pain, is available within a price range of Rs 15- Rs 230. Tonsillectomy may cost a lot if it is done from a reputed private hospital. The cost of the surgery in such cases will exceed Rs 2 lakhs. Penicillin antibiotic can cost anything between Rs 500 – Rs 1000. Cough syrups to treat throat pain are available within a price range of Rs 100- Rs 200.
Are the results of the treatment permanent?
Sore throats can be caused due to a number of causes including viral and bacterial infections, allergic reactions to environmental pollutants, dry air, smoke, chemical and other irritants, injury and even tumors. Thus although the bacterial or viral infections can be dealt with quite easily, pain in the throat can recur. This is due to the fact that the triggering mechanisms cannot b controlled so easily. Hence, there are no permanent cures.
What are the home remedies for a throat ache?
Irrespective of the underlying cause, there are certain home remedies that are widely believed to provide relief from the condition. Some of those are detailed below:
- Rest: Adequate rest and sleep are associated with positive results for people with throat pain.
- Drink fluids: Increase your fluid intake. This will help in preventing dehydration and maintaining moisture in the throat. Limit intake of tea, coffee and alcohol. You can also try lukewarm water with honey, ginger tea or licorice root tea to soothe your throat.
- Consider saltwater: Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 240ml of warm water to prepare a saltwater solution. Gargle with this solution to get relief from sore throat.
- Avoid irritants: Pollutants can irritate the throat and lead to inflammation and pain. Hence, it is important to reduce the indoor levels of smoke and pollutants in your home.
- Opt for humidifier: Dry air can worsen a sore throat. You can consider using a cool-air humidifier that increases the moisture levels in the air.