During cold and flu season, sore throats can be a real annoyance. During the winter months, breathing through the mouth can cause drying and irritation in the throat. Taking care of a sore throat at home, however, is pretty simple and easy. You just have to know what to do.
Sore throat viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics. They just have to run their course, like the common cold. If the sore throat is especially painful, use a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Cold liquids may also relieve the pain of a viral sore throat.
Older children or adolescents may develop a viral sore throat called infectous mononucleosis or “mono.” If the sore throat lasts longer than a week, mononucleosis may be the reason. Along with the sore throat, the patient will feel much weaker and more tired than usual. Like other viral sore throats, there is no antibiotic cure of mononucleosis.
The most common sore throat condition caused by bacteria is strep throat, caused by streptococcal bacteria. A strep throat should be treated with antibiotics because complications could occur if it remains untreated. Complications of strep throat include an absess in the throat (though this is extremely rare) and acute glomerulonephritis, which causes an inflammation in the kidneys.
The most concerning complication of strep throat is rheumatic fever, which causes painful swollen joints, unusual skin rashes, and heart damage. Strep throat is much less common in adults than in children, and rheumatic fever is rare in adults.
Using antibiotics for strep throat will also prevent the spreading of the condition to other family members and friends. Strep throat is unlikely if the sore throat is a minor part of a typical cold (runny nose, stuffy ears, cough, etc.). If common cold symptoms are not apparent along with your sore throat, make an appointment with your doctor for a strep test. You’ll likely need antibiotics. Only your doctor will be able to differentiate bacterial from viral sore throat using a “rapid strep” test.
To ease a viral sore throat at home, treat the other symptoms of your cold as well. Your sore throat may be caused by drainage from your sinuses. In this case, blow your nose often so the drainage doesn’t drip down your throat. Also, sleep with your head elevated. Run a humidifier or vaporizer near your bed so your throat doesn’t dry out in the night, especially if your stuffy nose causes you to breathe through your mouth.
Remember the old saltwater treatment your mother prescribed? It’s still one of the most effective home treatments for easing sore throats. Pour yourself a glass of warm water and dissolve a couple of teaspoons of salt in it. Then buck up and gargle the stuff. Initially it will make you cringe, but your throat will feel better almost immediately.
If you simply can’t stand the thought of gargling saltwater, you can find throat lozenges at the drugstore. Lozenges containing Vitamin C and Zinc may help you get over your cold faster, but only if you begin taking them as soon as you notice symptoms.
With a little extra care and some saltwater, you should be able to make it through sore throat season with little discomfort.