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When It Hurts to Swallow: Sore Throat

When It Hurts to Swallow: Sore Throat



What is a sore throat?
What causes sore throat?
Can I prevent sore throats?
How can I find out what is causing my sore throat?
How do you treat a sore throat?


What is a sore throat?
Sore throat is an all too common symptom of health problems ranging from colds and flu to strep throat and tonsillitis. Basically, a sore throat is an irritation, inflammation (swelling), or infection of the lining of your throat. The main symptom of a sore throat is pain or a raw feeling in your throat, especially when you swallow. You may also have a fever and feel generally tired and sick. The lymph nodes in your neck may be swollen as well. You may hear people refer to this as "swollen glands." back to top

What causes sore throat?
Smoking, breathing very dry air, and cheering loudly or yelling are examples of irritants that can cause you to get a sore throat. Sore throats caused by smoking, dry air, or yelling will go away on their own once you give your throat a rest (and drink plenty of water!).

A virus, such as the common cold, or a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, can also cause sore throat. A viral sore throat will go away on its own. Sore throats caused by bacteria should be treated. See your health professional if you have a sore throat and suspect it might be strep throat, which is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. If you have strep throat but do not get medical care, you could develop serious health problems such as scarlet fever and rheumatic fever.

In some cases, sore throat is a symptom of a sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or herpes. Girls who perform oral sex on their partners are at risk for getting these diseases. If you have been exposed to gonorrhea or chlamydia, see your health professional. These diseases must be treated with antibiotic drugs. back to top

Can I prevent sore throats?
There are plenty of irritants in your environment that you can control to prevent sore throats. Don't smoke, and use a humidifier if the air in your home is very dry.

Drink plenty of water, eat nutritious food, get enough sleep, and wash your hands often to reduce the chances of catching a cold or strep throat. Here are some quick tips to avoid passing along a virus or bacterial infection:
  • Don't share water bottles.
  • Don't kiss someone who has a sore throat.
  • Don't share food, drinks, or chewing gum.
And remember, it's probably wise to stay home if you have a sore throat and fever. The bottom line is, keep your germs to yourself!

Ask your partner if he or she has any sexually transmitted diseases. And have your partner use a condom during oral sex to protect yourself and your throat. back to top

How can I find out what is causing my sore throat?
Most sore throats are caused by viruses and will go away on their own. If you have a severe sore throat, or if your throat does not start to feel better after a day or two, see your health professional. It is important to be sure that you don't have strep throat or a sexually transmitted disease (if you are at risk because of oral sex). Your health professional can tell if your sore throat is caused by Streptococcus or other bacteria or by a virus. This is done by a throat culture or a rapid detection strep test. She or he will use a cotton swab to get a sample of fluid and tissue from the back of your throat. The sample is then checked in a laboratory to identify specific bacteria or viruses that can cause sore throat. back to top

How do you treat a sore throat?
Viral sore throats do not need medical treatment. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of water while your body fights off the virus. If you have strep throat, your health professional will want you to take an antibiotic drug, usually penicillin. It is very important to take the entire prescription of penicillin as directed even if you feel better in a day or two. Your symptoms might go away quickly, but the Strep bacteria are still in your body and could cause serious health problems if they are not treated completely.

If you have a sexually transmitted disease in your throat, your health professional will treat you with antibiotic drugs. back to top

 
 
 
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