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Sore throat

The most common causes of sore throats are cold and flu infections

What is a sore throat?

A sore throat, or pharyngitis, is caused by inflammation of the tissues at the back of the mouth or throat. Most commonly, this inflammation is due to infection by viruses and bacteria, associated with the common cold or flu.

Sore throats are commonly encountered conditions and it is said that the average person will get 2 or 3 of these a year. Sore throat symptoms can range from a mild itch or scratch at the back of the throat, to discomfort or pain when swallowing food, liquids or even saliva. Sore throats are a frequent part of cold and flu infections and, like the latter, are more commonly experienced by younger people. This is because as a person gets older, he or she has had the chance to build up a resistance to cold and flu viruses.

Causes of sore throats

The most common causes of a sore throat, by far, are viral infections associated with colds or flu, or a secondary infection by bacteria. Other causes of sore throats include:

  • Excessive use of the voice – for example, shouting and singing during a rock concert
  • Injury or trauma to the back of the throat as a result of eating something solid – e.g. a fish bone
  • Hayfever or other forms of allergic rhinitis. Air-borne allergies can cause inflammation to the back of the throat
  • Irritation caused by atmospheric pollutants or self-inflicted with cigarette smoke
  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux – basically, acid rising up from the stomach and irritating the back of the throat
  • Certain types of medication such as the class of drugs known as DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) used to treat rheumatoid arthritis
  • A weakened immune system such as seen with HIV and AIDs can cause ‘normal’ infections to become more severe

Treating a sore throat

Sore throats relating to colds and flu may be treated in a number of ways:

  • Many people resort to simple analgesics (aspirin and paracetamol), including those contained in conventional cold and flu remedies
  • An alternative is to use echinacea to help relieve the symptoms of colds and flu, including sore throats. The herb has an additional benefit as it works by strengthening the body’s immune system
  • Throat sprays are available to treat sore throats – these usually contain conventional antiseptics and analgesics
  • Alternatively, there are herbal sore throat remedies such as those combining echinacea and sage.

If your sore throat is not related to the common cold or flu, or if it persists for longer than a week, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.