“The ‘run of the mill’ strep throat and tonsillitis are more often seen by primary care physicians,” says Dr. Flores. “ENTs see the more complicated cases that don’t respond to standard treatment. Many of these people have infectious mononucleosis, or eventually need tonsillectomies.”
In addition, Flores notes that persistent throat pain on one side — or that feels worse on one side — may indicate a bacterial infection that usually begins as a complication of tonsillitis or untreated strep throat (peritonsillar abscess). In some cases, the pain may indicate an advanced tumor. “A sore throat accompanied by a swollen neck gland should be seen by a physician soon,” says Flores.
Other causes of a chronic sore throat, like smoking, are problems that you can control to alleviate your throat pain.
The Best Ways to Treat a Sore Throat
To successfully treat a sore throat, you have to know what’s causing it. Bacterial infections like strep throat need treatment with antibiotics. It’s crucial that you receive treatment for strep and don’t let it continue. This bacterial infection can lead to rheumatic fever, which can cause permanent heart damage. A simple course of antibiotics (remember to take them all) can keep strep throat from becoming a serious problem.
Viral infections, like influenza, may be treated with antiviral medication, but most do not require any treatment at all.
If you have allergies that are causing a chronic sore throat (through postnasal drip), your doctor may prescribe a medication to control allergy symptoms, such as nasal corticosteroids like Flonase (fluticasone). You can also find ways to avoid those allergens (often things like mold, pet dander, or pollen) to alleviate your throat pain and other symptoms.
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Finding Relief From Throat Pain
No matter what’s causing a sore throat, you can take steps at home to soothe an itchy, scratchy, painful throat. Try these tips to relieve throat pain at home:
- Suck on something soothing, like a piece of hard candy, a throat lozenge, or a Popsicle.
- Stay hydrated and moisten the throat by drinking plenty of water and other fluids. Try adding honey to a warm drink or sip on a mug of warm tea.
- Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Aleve (naproxen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Use in moderation and only for a short period of time.
- Run a humidifier in your home to prevent dry air from irritating your throat.
- Create a mixture of warm water and 1 teaspoon of salt per cup and gargle it a couple of times per day.
It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of a sore throat, but if it doesn’t get any better, you can be sure there’s some reason for it. “If the sore throat is accompanied by very severe pain on swallowing along with a high fever, it’s best to see a healthcare provider right away,” says Flores. See your doctor, figure out the cause, and decide on treatments and remedies that best fit your diagnosis.