Sore Throats

Family Health Diary

Streptococcal bacterial infections (commonly called “strep throat”) can be much more serious and of longer duration. It is usually recommended that strep throat be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of secondary complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney disease. Other less common bacterial sore throats are caused by mycoplasma or haemophilus infections.

More commonly, sore throats are viral, resulting from the common cold, glandular fever, measles, chicken pox or whooping cough. Untreated nose or sinus infections can also cause a sore throat as infected mucus drains from the back of the nose into the throat.

Environmental pollutants, especially cigarette smoke, can also cause a sore throat. Inhaled pollens, moulds, animal danders and house dust may also be a trigger. Some people find that they have a chronic sore throat that is noticeable only when they wake in the morning. Such a sore throat may indicate that you’re experiencing acid reflux from your stomach during the night. If this is a problem, try tilting the bed so that the head of the bed is 4–6 inches higher than the foot of the bed. Eliminating coffee and alcohol and making your evening meal a light one may help. Morning sore throats can also be the result of mouth-breathing and snoring through the night.

Prevention and treatment

1. Viral sore throats
Viral sore throats are the great majority of sore throats and usually you will have a running/blocked nose and/or cough. They will go away without treatment and do not need antibiotics. To soothe a viral throat, drink lots of liquids (water, warm tea and honey, fruit juice, homemade pineapple and ginger juice). There are also many over-the-counter medicines that can help alleviate pain and discomfort but they do not make any difference to the duration of the sore throat.

2. Strep throats
Strep throats tend to cause more severe pain and fever without nose symptoms, ie. if you have a sore throat with a cold it is unlikely to be strep. Strep throat is more common the further north you go in the North Island. It is usually accompanied by bad breath, beefy red tonsils (sometimes with pus) and swollen lymph nodes on the front and side of the neck. Children often have a headache. If left untreated, especially in Maori and Pacific Islanders, a strep throat infection can cause rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, causing damage to joints or heart valves. If you think you have a strep throat you need to see your general practice or health nurse for treatment.

3. Herbal help
While it will not cure the sore throat, gargling with goldenseal tea is a traditional naturopathic treatment. Pour boiling water over 1–2 teaspoons of fresh or dried goldenseal; strain and gargle two to three times daily. Essential oil of sandalwood may also soothe a sore throat. Rub a carrier oil (any kind of vegetable oil you have in the kitchen will do) over the external throat. Apply 7 drops of sandalwood and rub gently into the skin. Garlic is also used. Fresh garlic cloves can be crushed (1–2 cloves) and added to hot water, grated ginger and lemon juice. Add a generous teaspoon of manuka honey and sip until gone.

4. Sprays, gargles and lozenges
There are a range of soothing over-the-counter products available to ease the pain and irritation of a sore throat. They will not cure your sore throat, but may ease symptoms.

5. See your doctor
Visit your doctor if there is:

  • Severe difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Excessive drooling in young children
  • High fever
  • Tender swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Pus on the tonsils.

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