What you need to know about sore throats

Most sore throats are caused by viral infections that clear within a week or so.

Bacterial infections tend to last longer, and the pain may be more severe.

You shouldn't wait to see a doctor if you have a swollen neck or are unable to swallow your own saliva, breathe properly or fully open your mouth.

Prolonged symptoms can also point to a more serious underlying condition, like cancer and HIV, says Dr Johari Shirish, principal resident physician in the department of otorhinolaryngology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

1. Possible cause of your sore throat: Laryngitis

Other symptoms include: A hoarse voice, dry throat, coughing and blood in phlegm.

Why it happens: Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx (voice box), and can be caused by infections, voice overuse, acid reflux, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and chronic coughing. Excess shouting or singing at a high pitch can also strain the voice box.

How to treat a sore throat caused by laryngitis: Resting your voice box is a must.

Medication will be given for infections, and voice therapy may be needed to strengthen vocal muscles.

Avoid eating lozenges that contain mint as it can actually cause dehydration of the vocal cords and make matters worse, says Dr Shirish.

2. Possible cause of your sore throat: Common cold

Other symptoms include: Runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, coughing, watery eyes and fever.

Why it happens: Highly contagious, the common cold virus spreads through physical contact and the air.

To reduce your risk of catching the bug, wash your hands properly, wear a mask around infected people, and avoid sharing eating cutlery.

Dr Shirish recommends getting the flu vaccine annually.

How to treat a sore throat caused by the common cold: The infection should clear within five to seven days.

In the meantime, OTC meds may relieve specific symptoms, like sinus discomfort.

If the symptoms do not improve within a week, see a doctor.

3. Possible cause of your sore throat: Strep throat

Other symptoms include: Difficulty swallowing, swollen tonsils, red spots on the palate (roof of the mouth), swollen lymph nodes (located on the sides of throat), fever, rash, stomach pain, vomiting and fatigue.

Why it happens: The infection caused by streptococci bacteria can cause your throat to be inflamed, painful and scratchy.

Prevention tips for the common cold also apply.

How to treat a sore throat caused by strep throat: The doctor will prescribe antibiotics and painkillers.

4. Possible cause of your sore throat: Tonsillitis

Other symptoms include: Fever, difficulty swallowing, and having enlarged and tender lymph nodes.

Why it happens: Tonsillitis is the inflammation and swelling of the tonsils.

Viral and bacterial infections can cause it, but the former is more common. Prevention tips for the common cold also apply.

How to treat a sore throat caused by tonsillitis: Symptomatic treatment will be given for viral infections, and antibiotics will be given for bacterial infections.

You should recover within two weeks.

5. Possible cause of your sore throat: GERD

Other symptoms include: A burning sensation in the chest, a sour taste in the mouth, abdominal bloating, difficulty swallowing, persistent coughing, hoarseness, and an obvious lump in the throat.

Why it happens: Short for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, GERD is a digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the food pipe (oesophagus) or throat.

Smokers, pregnant women or obese people are more susceptible, while irregular eating habits and inactivity also make it worse.

How to treat a sore throat caused by GERD: Acid-reducing medicine such as antacids may be given.

Lifestyle changes like eating smaller meals, stubbing out and maintaining an ideal weight can also help.

Avoid food and drinks that worsen GERD, like fatty, fried food, alcohol, chocolate and caffeine.

In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

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