Why Is My Throat So Sore?

Do you have a sore throat? Does it feel like you are swallowing rocks or glass? Do you have white stuff in the back of your throat? Are you more tired than usual? Are you running a fever? If you answered yes to the majority of these questions, then you may have a sore throat which is also known as pharyngitis. Pharyngitis is an inflammation of the throat (pharynx) and surrounding tissue (tonsils). A sore throat can be caused by a variety of things, but most commonly by a virus, a fungus, or a bacteria. A sore throat can be contagious, so it is important not to share drinks, utensils, or to kiss on the lips when you are sick with a sore throat and haven’t seen a doctor yet.

Common Sore Throat Symptoms

Symptoms of a sore throat can be very broad. You may be experiencing just the sore throat itself, but you could also be experiencing associated symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Post nasal drip
  • Congestion
  • Ear pain
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Hoarseness
  • Chills
  • Decreased appetite
  • Oral ulcers in the mouth
  • Swollen glands and tonsils
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Mouth rash
  • Burning and painful tongue with a white coating

Who is at Risk for a Sore Throat?

Everyone is at risk for a sore throat as it is such a common symptom when you or a loved one become ill. A sore throat is seen more often in the winter and the summer months. A sore throat is usually one of the first indications you are getting sick with a cold or upper respiratory infection in the winter. It starts out scratchy and then becomes sore. A couple of days later the sore throat has subsided, but the cold has progressed. A sore throat is often seen in the summer months as an indicator of seasonal allergies or hay fever. Pollen from all the blooming plants and flowers become airborne, and we breathe in this pollen. It can aggravate your nasal passage and airways and cause an allergic reaction which then causes post nasal drip all day and therefore makes your throat sore. School-aged children are often more at risk for strep throat which is caused by a bacteria. Strep throat is contagious.

What Will My Doctor Ask Me?

Your doctor may ask you a bunch of questions related to your sore throat. He/she will want to know if you have been recently exposed to someone with diagnosed strep throat. If so, they will want to perform a swab of your throat to see what type of bacteria is in your throat and on your tonsils. Other questions the doctor may ask you include:

  • How long has your throat been sore?
  • Do you have a runny nose, congestion, or a cough?
  • Are you more tired than usual?
  • Do you have a headache?
  • Are you able to eat and drink?
  • Do you have an ulcer or pain in your mouth?
  • A question more geared to children is whether they have abdominal pain or nausea. Strep throat in a child can manifest as pain in the stomach as a primary symptom.

How Do I Treat My Sore Throat?

You can try some at home remedies to help soothe your irritated and sore throat. Gargling with warm salt water three to four times a day helps minimize the inflammation that is occurring. You can also take pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the pain of your sore throat.

Tests

Since a sore throat is such a common symptom of many illnesses, your doctor may want to run some tests on you to eliminate potential causes. Your doctor may order blood to be drawn for a complete blood count (CBC) to check if you have an infection, a blood draw for a mono spot to see if you have mono, and a strep swab and culture to determine if you have strep throat. If all of these tests come back negative, then you may just have a viral sore throat (pharyngitis) that will resolve on its own in a few days. If any of the above tests come back positive, your doctor will make a treatment plan for you with the appropriate treatment and medication for each.

Treatment

Your treatment will depend on the type of sore throat you have been diagnosed with. It can be a viral, bacterial, or fungal cause.

Viral

If your doctor determines you have a sore throat due to a virus, they will provide you with symptomatic treatment as viruses do not require antibiotics. You will be instructed to use warm salt water gargles, suck on hard candy or lozenges, and to use an anti-inflammatory pain medication such as Advil.

Bacterial

If your strep test comes back positive, you have strep throat and are contagious to others until you have been on antibiotics for greater than twenty-four hours. In addition to being prescribed an antibiotic such as amoxicillin or penicillin, you will be instructed to use the symptomatic treatment listed above. If you have any allergies to penicillin products, your doctor will prescribe you an alternate antibiotic that will work just as good.

Fungal

Your doctor will be able to tell if you have a fungus in your mouth and throat without performing any tests. They will start you on a medicine called Nystatin for ten days that you are to swish around in your mouth and then swallow. This medication is an antifungal and will kill the white fungus living in your mouth and throat.

What Do I Need to Know About Sore Throat? – Patient Education

  • If you have been diagnosed with strep throat, you cannot go back to school or work until you have been on antibiotics for a full twenty-four hours as you are contagious to others.
  • Make sure to change your toothbrush after you have been on antibiotics for twenty-four hours to prevent re-infection.
  • Increase your fluid intake even though it hurts to swallow.
  • Make sure to take all of your antibiotics even if you feel better as the bacteria will not be fully killed and the illness will come back.

Emergency Warning Signs/When to Follow Up

Immediately call the office or go to the emergency room if difficulty breathing occurs, severe throat pain, drooling, or the inability to open your mouth occurs as this could be a sign of an emergency condition such as epiglottitis or peritonsillar abscess.

If you are not seeing any improvement in seventy-two hours on antibiotics, you need to follow up with your doctor.

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