Sore Throat? Know When to Seek Care
Not only are sore throats painful, they also are one of the top reasons for trips to see the physician and sick days taken from work or school. According to Brett M. Scotch, DO, an osteopathic ear, nose and throat physician from Wesley Chapel, Florida, the key to treating a sore throat involves a combination of at-home therapy and knowing when it’s time to call your physician.
“A sore throat can be caused by any number of factors,” says Dr. Scotch.
Common causes of an acute sore throat include:
- Common cold and viruses
- Strep throat or other bacterial throat infections
- Throat irritation and dryness from low humidity (air conditioning)
- Air pollution
- Yelling or vocal abuse
- Nasal drainage down the back of the throat
- Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose
DOs, or osteopathic physicians, focus on prevention by gaining a deeper understanding of your lifestyle and environment as they partner to help you get healthy and stay well.
Self-care for Sore Throats
In most cases, your sore throat can be healed with at-home treatment, such as:
- Gargling at least once an hour with warm salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Drinking warm fluids such as tea or soup. Hot fluids soothe the throat and help thin sinus mucus. This allows better drainage and decreased stuffiness.
- Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke.
- Taking nonprescription medications such as throat lozenges and decongestants.
When to See a Physician
It’s time to see a physician if you’ve tried at-home treatment but:
- You have a severe sore throat and a fever over 101 degrees that lasts longer than one to two days.
- You have trouble sleeping because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids.
- You notice the appearance of a red rash that feels like sandpaper. This could be a symptom of scarlet fever.
These symptoms can indicate a bacterial infection, which your physician may treat with antibiotics.
Your physician may recommend a tonsillectomy – the surgical removal of the tonsils – if you experience any of the following criteria:
- You have repeated bacterial throat infections within a relatively short period of time.
- You have abscesses of the tonsils that do not respond to drainage.
- There is a persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth that is caused by tonsillitis and does not respond to antibiotics.
- A biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the tonsil.
“However, a tonsillectomy should always be the last resort for treating sore throats,” warns Dr. Scotch. “The best treatment for a sore throat is prevention.”
4 Tips to Prevent a Sore Throat
- Replace your toothbrush every month.
- Toss an old toothbrush once you’ve recovered from a sore throat to prevent re-infection.
- Wash your hands often.
- Stop smoking, which can irritate the throat.
DOs are trained to not only treat illness but to partner with their patients to prevent it. To that end, Dr. Scotch emphasizes eating right and getting plenty of sleep as key steps to staying well.