How to Treat a Sore Throat
Most of us are all too familiar with the signs: scratchiness, painful swallowing and that raw feeling -- all the uncomfortable symptoms of an sore throat. Sore throats are generally not a sickness by themselves; they are a symptom of another illness, such as cold, flu or strep. But a painful throat may be the first symptom you experience.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to treat your sore throat to make it a little easier to … well, swallow.
Step 1: Learn the Cause
The reason for your sore throat will make a difference in how you handle the pain. The best way to discover the cause is to examine the accompanying symptoms.
"Sore throats are [most] often seen with the common cold, and are a result of drainage [from the sinus passages] down the back of the throat," says Ladean Cross, a nurse practitioner and owner of Saguaro Family Clinic in Castle Rock, Colo.
Another cause of a sore throat might be a strep infection, she says. This frequently comes on with a headache, fever and/or stomach pain preceding it.
The Mayo Clinic adds two more ailments to the list of possibilities: the flu, which is often accompanied by body aches, chills, fatigue and a high fever; or mononucleosis, which is characterized by swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, a headache, skin rash and loss of appetite.
Step 2: Treat the Cause
By zeroing in on the reason for the sore throat, you can put yourself on the road to recovery:
If the cause is a cold, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids until the virus runs its course.
The flu can be treated effectively with prescription medication if you hit the doctor's office at the first indication of flu symptoms.
Strep also requires a trip to your provider for antibiotic treatment. Cross says that the best way to screen for strep is to wait 24 hours before heading to the doctor's office, because it takes that long for the bacteria to show up positive on a rapid strep screening.
Step 3: Treat the Pain
While you’re waiting for your body to recover, of course, there’s still that pesky sore throat to contend with. There’s no cure for a sore throat, but there are effective methods for relieving the discomfort.
Cross says a sore throat that accompanies a cold can be treated effectively with fluids and throat lozenges.
John Shufeldt, CEO of NextCare Urgent Care, adds that salt water gargles and Advil work well.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends stirring honey and lemon into a cup of very hot water and then letting it cool to room temperature before drinking it.
Cross cautions that cool or cold liquids are better for a sore throat than warm or hot, "since the latter can increase the swelling."
According to the Mayo Clinic, resting your voice is an easy way to curb the irritation and may help prevent laryngitis from occurring.
If your sore throat is accompanied by an inability to swallow, a fever over 101°F for more than 24 hours, a stiff neck, swelling on one side only or signs of dehydration, contact your doctor right away, Cross says.