A sore throat may initially make you sound like the seductive Lauren Bacall or the iconic Steven Tyler. As the condition progresses, you may feel less sultry and feel more sickly — even miserable. In extreme cases, the sore throat may be a symptom of a more serious condition. But before you become alarmed at your symptom and before you take on any new remedy, let’s determine whether the cause of the sore throat is viral.
The Causes of Sore Throat
Why is it necessary to learn how your sore throat came about? For starters, the cause determines the remedy; if your sore throat is caused by something other than a virus, it could be a strep throat. A strep throat will require antibiotics because it’s bacterial in nature. Unlike the common sore throat, which is viral.
The most common cause of a throat is a viral infection, like the flu or a cold. Allergies from pollen or pet dander and smoking (or exposure to secondhand smoking) could also be the cause behind a sore throat. These things irritate the throat. Other potential causes may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD pushes acid from the stomach up, burning the esophagus and throat); dry air and injury or repetitive strain to the vocal cords.
How can you tell you have a sore throat and not a strep throat?
The Symptoms of a Sore Throat
You’ll usually feel pain or get that scratchy sensation in your throat. It’ll feel dry as well.
You may also exhibit the following:
- Hoarse or strained voice
- Red and swollen tonsils
- White patches on the tonsils
- Swollen neck or jaw glands
- Runny nose and coughing
Some sore throats may be accompanied by:
You need to see a doctor right away if your sore throat is on its second or third week, and if you’ve:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lost your appetite
- Found it difficult to breathe
- Been drooling
See your doctor because your sore throat may be caused by bacteria not a virus.
Although it couldn’t hurt to go see your doctor to determine whether you’ve got the common sore throat. Once your physician confirms your scratchy, painful throat is caused by a virus, then you can try some remedies at-home.
Other than popping throat lozenges to ease that itchy, burning throat, the following remedies may help alleviate your condition:
Drink cold liquids
It sounds counterintuitive to drink something cold to quell something potentially caused by a cold or the flu. Your first instinct may be to drink hot tea, which is also a good remedy. But cold, almost icy water may dull the pain in your throat the same way an ice pack works for muscle pain or injury. A frosty drink or an ice pop soothes inflammation.
Drink chamomile tea
A hot drink is also good because a warm temperature allows you to produce more saliva; salivation helps lubricate the throat, easing the pain. And chamomile is typically used as an anti-inflammatory agent, helping your body fight infection. If chamomile is not to your liking, try other herbal teas with echinacea, which reportedly boosts the immune system.
Use honey as sweetener
Honey can be taken on its own, but if you’d rather not, mix it in with your tea. This natural sweetener has shown efficacy in speeding up healing of wounds, so it may help your sore throat heal faster. If you prefer not to have it with tea, mix a tablespoon with warm water. Your physician may warn against taking honey if you have acid reflux because it’s acidic.
You have two options: salt water and baking soda. For salt water, mix ½ teaspoon of salt with warm water. For baking soda, combine ¼ teaspoon of baking soda in 1 cup of warm water. Gargle your preferred mixture every three hours.
Salt water calms inflammation, reducing swelling in the throat whereas baking soda kills bacteria, preventing fungi and yeast growth.
Another potential gargling mixture could be apple cider vinegar (ACV), which contains antifungal and antibacterial properties. But vinegar is acidic, and repeated gargling may damage tooth enamel. So ask your doctor first if ACV is a good idea.
Humidification helps to relieve sore throat symptoms because it adds moisture back to where it needs it. A steam shower can humidify your airways, soothing your sore throat. And much like cold showers, a warm shower can be therapeutic.
How Long Do Sore Throats Last?
The duration of a sore throat depends on what’s causing it. If the throat pain is due to a common virus, expect the itchiness to last from three to ten days. If the sore throat is due to a bacterial infection, which happens less often than a viral infection, you could be nursing the pain for a week to ten days. And that’s without taking antibiotics. Natural remedies aren’t going to cut it for bacterial infections.
A strep throat will need treatment from a doctor. Caused by Streptococcus (group A streptococcus), throat discomfort from this bacteria requires antibiotics. Once you take them, you may feel some relief in a couple days or so.
Some sore throats caused by a viral infection may last longer than 10 days. An infectious viral disease called mononucleosis may lead to a sore throat. If this is the case, you could be looking at a month-long throat pain. A prescription of corticosteroids may reduce the swelling, bringing you some relief.
Other sore throats brought on by a sinus infection may be chronic. So the underlying condition must be treated first to manage the throat discomfort.
Does Covid Start with a Sore Throat?
Covid symptoms may start with a sore throat. Although there isn’t a cure yet, some antiviral medication may work for mild to moderate COVID-19. But get tested first before attributing your sore throat to the virus, especially if you’ve been exposed to it.
Follow CDC guidance for isolating while waiting for your test results.
Talk to your doctor if your sore throat has lasted for more than 10 days and you’ve tested negative for COVID-19. Early detection of a more serious condition helps manage your health care costs aside from potentially saving your life.
Find the Right Sore Throat Remedies
A sore throat can be painful, not just inconvenient. Observe your symptoms. Watch for strep-like conditions, and see your doctor to determine the best treatment.