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Managing and preventing sore throat

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Health safety practitioner and senior registrar in the Department of Community Health at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Odusolu Yetunde defined sore throat as a painful, dry, or scratchy feeling in the throat. She explained what causes sore throat, treatment and preventive measures.

What causes sore throat?
Sore throat can be caused by infections, such as viral infection, which accounts for the commonest cause of sore throat. Common cold or flu (influenza), which is caused by viral infection can manifest with sore throat. Viral infections such as measles, chicken pox, mononucleosis and mumps can also cause sore throat.

Sore throat can also be caused by bacterial infection, with the commonest being the streptococcal infection, which is caused by Group A streptococcus bacteria, said to account for 40 percent of sore throat cases in children.

Sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can also cause sore throat. Individuals with HIV infection can also have sore throat and other flu-like symptoms, which sometimes appear early after someone is infected with HIV.

An HIV-positive person might have a chronic or recurring sore throat, due to a fungal infection called oral thrush or due to a viral infection called cytomegalovirus (CMV), which can be serious in people with compromised immune systems.

Environmental factors, such as dry air, especially in dry season, air pollution, exposure to cleaning agents and chemicals, as well as allergens, such as pollens and pets for people with allergies can cause sore throat.

Mechanical causes, such mouth breathing especially at night, some diseases like cancer of the throat, voice box or tongue and social behaviours like smoking of cigarette or tobacco smoke can result into sore throat.

Foreign body stuck in the throat, for example, a bone or piece of food can also cause sore throat. General anaesthesia has also been known to be a cause of postoperative sore throat. Trauma or injury, such as a hit or cut to the neck can cause pain and irritation.

Sore throat can also result from repeated use and strains on the vocal cords and muscles in the throat. It can occur after yelling or screaming, talking loudly, or singing for a long period of time without rest. Sore throats are a common complaint among fitness instructors and teachers, among others.

Sore throat is also seen in person with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) a digestive system disorder in which stomach acids back up in the food pipe (esophagus). Intentional or unintentional ingestion: Certain substances, for example, bleach can cause a sore throat.

How many types of sore throats are there?
Sore throats are divided into types, based on the part of the throat they affect.
Pharyngitis affects the area right behind the mouth.
Tonsillitis is swelling and redness of the tonsils, the soft tissue in the back of the mouth.
Laryngitis is swelling and redness of the voice box, or larynx.

What are the symptoms of sore throat?
The symptoms of sore throat can vary, depending on what caused it. A sore throat can feel scratchy, burning, raw, dry, irritated or tender. Along with sore throat, you can have such symptoms as nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, cough, fever, chills, swollen glands in the neck, hoarse or muffled voice, body aches, headache, trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, and white patches or pus on the tonsils.

Some more serious symptoms of sore throat that require one to see a physician include:
For children: Difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing and unusual drooling, which might indicate inability to swallow.

For adults: Severe sore throat, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, difficulty opening the mouth, painful or stiff neck, sore joints, rash fever higher than 38.3oC, blood in saliva or phlegm, lump in the neck or swelling in the neck or face, earache, hoarseness lasting more than two weeks and a sore throat that lasts for more than a week.

What risk factors are associated with sore throat?
Factors that make one susceptible to sore throat include:
Age: Children and teens are most likely to develop sore throats. Children ages three to 15 are also more likely to have strep throat, the most common bacterial infection associated with a sore throat.

Exposure to tobacco smoke: Smoking and secondhand smoke can irritate the throat. The use of tobacco products also increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box.

Allergies: Seasonal allergies or ongoing allergic reactions to dust, moulds or pet dander make developing a sore throat more likely.

Exposure to chemical irritants: Particles in the air from burning fossil fuels and common household chemicals can cause throat irritation.

Chronic or frequent sinus infections: Drainage from the nose can irritate the throat or spread infection.
Close quarters: Viral and bacterial infections spread easily anywhere people gather, whether in child care centres, classrooms, offices or airplanes.

Weakened immunity: One is more susceptible to infections in general, if one’s resistance is low. Common causes of lowered immunity include HIV, diabetes, treatment with steroids or chemotherapy drugs, stress, fatigue and poor diet.

How is sore throat managed?
The management of sore throat involves making a diagnosis and its treatment. Usually, the doctor examines the throat with light and may feel for lumps round the neck. A throat swab is taken. Sore throat associated with bacterial infection like streptococcus is treated with antibiotics, and it is advisable that full course of antibiotics is taken to prevent complications like rheumatic fever, pneumonia and bronchitis.

A sore throat caused by a viral infection usually lasts five to seven days and doesn’t require medical treatment. If a sore throat is a symptom of a condition other than a viral or bacterial infection, other treatments will likely be considered, depending on the diagnosis. Medicines can be taken to relieve the pain of a sore throat, or to treat the underlying cause. The pain from sore throat can be relieved with some over-the-counter pain relievers, throat lozenges, throat spray that contains some numbing antiseptic like phenol, or a cooling agent like menthol or eucalyptus and cough syrup.

For a sore throat without an obvious diagnosis, you might need to see a specialist who treats conditions of the ears, nose and throat.

Are there lifestyle and home remedies for the condition?
Yes. People should get plenty of sleep. They should also rest their voice. There is also need to take lots of fluids to keep the throat moist and prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate.

Taking comforting foods and beverage, such as warm liquids broth, caffeine-free tea or warm water with honey and cold treats such as ice pops can soothe a sore throat.

Also gargling with saltwater of one-quarter to half a teaspoon of table salt in half cup of warm water can help soothe a sore throat. Children older than six and adults can gargle the solution and then spit it out.
Using cool-air humidifier eliminates dry air that may further irritate a sore throat.

Taking either lozenges or handy candy can soothe a sore throat, but shouldn’t be given to children age four and younger because of choking risk.

There is need to also avoid irritants: This can be done by keeping the home free from cigarette smoke and cleaning products that can irritate the throat.

How can sore throat be prevented?
The best way to prevent sore throat is to avoid the germs that cause them and practise good hygiene. Follow these tips and teach your child to do the same:
Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after using the toilet, before eating, and after sneezing or coughing. Avoid sharing food, drinking glasses or utensils.

Cough or sneeze into a tissue and throw it away. When necessary, people should sneeze into their elbow. Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers as an alternative to washing hands, when soap and water aren’t available.

Avoid touching public phones or drinking from taps with your mouth.

Regularly clean telephones, TV remotes and computer keyboards with sanitising cleanser. When you travel, clean phones and remotes in your hotel room. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.


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