Sore throat refers to pain, scratchiness or dryness or irritation in the throat. Sore throat is a symptom and it most commonly occurs due to pharyngitis (inflammation of the throat). The pharyngitis is usually caused by a viral infection (e.g. common cold, flu, measles, etc.) or bacterial infection (e.g. Strep Throat). Other relatively rare causes of sore throat are allergies, heartburn (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), initial stages of HIV infection, breathing polluted air, cancers of throat and larynx, etc.
How to Cure a Sore Throat
Treatment of the sore throat will depend upon the cause. Pharyngitis due to viral infection usually requires only supportive home remedies and no medications are needed for it. However, pharyngitis due to bacterial infection requires treatment with antibiotics. Oral penicillin for 10 days is commonly prescribed in people who are not allergic to penicillin. Like any other antibiotic regimen, complete prescribed course should be taken even if the symptoms completely subside within few days. Treatment of sore throat due to other causes will depend upon the primary condition.
If sore throat is accompanied by other symptoms like pain and fever, NSAIDs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are also prescribed to provide symptomatic relief.
The following home remedies provide immense symptomatic relief from the symptoms of sore throat. These are the only treatments recommended in the sore throat caused by viral pharyngitis and recommended as an adjunctive therapy in bacterial pharyngitis.
- Saltwater Gargle: Gargle with lukewarm saltwater (~1 teaspoon of salt added to 1 glass of water) at least 4-6 times a day provides symptomatic relief. It is one of the most effective remedies.
- Drinking Lots of fluids: One should take plenty of water. This helps in preventing dehydration and drying of the throat. Severity of sore throat is exacerbated by drying of the throat.
- Breathing Humid Air: Humid air also prevents drying of the throat and thus provides symptomatic relief. Breathing steam can also be helpful if air humidifier is not available.
- Drinking Warm Liquids: Warm liquids like soup, tea, coffee also help in alleviation of the sore throat symptoms. They also provide fluid replacement and thus keep the throat moist.
- Avoid Cigarette Smoke: Cigarette smoke acts as an irritant and smoking should be avoided if one is having sore throat. Even passive smoking can be harmful. One should also avoid exposure to any other irritants (household cleaning products, industrial chemicals, etc.)
- Rest: Adequate amount of sleep and speaking less provides rest to the throat.
- Other Remedies: Various herbal remedies are advertised claiming to provide relief from sore throat. Effectiveness of such alternative treatments is not known. Some of the common herbal remedies promoted are licorice root, silkworm enzyme, slippery elm, Echinacea, garlic and horehound.
With proper treatment, sore throat usually resolves completely without any sequelae.
Sore Throat and Rheumatic Heart Disease
Sore throat caused by streptococcal infection in children may occasionally result in rheumatic fever (fever, pain and swelling in the joints, heart failure, skin nodules, etc.). Repeated infection may permanently damage heart valves resulting in rheumatic heart disease in adults. Therefore, prolonged prophylactic treatment with antibiotics is necessary to prevent any future recurrence of streptococcal pharyngitis and thus the rheumatic heart disease.