Dealing with sore throat

"Sore throat is a common symptom that the body can usually tackle on its own with the help of rest and medication," says Dr Toh Song Tar, Senior Consultant from the Department of Otolaryngology​​ and Director of the Sleeps Disorder Unit​, at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.​

How common is sore throat?

There is no data on the prevalence or incidence of sore throat in Singapore. However, it is a common symptom that is seen by general practitioners or ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeons.

What are the symptoms of sore throat?

The symptoms of sore throat essentially are pain in the throat, pain when swallowing, eating or drinking. These symptoms may be accompanied by coughing, sneezing, fever and swollen lymph nodes.

What causes sore throat?

Sore throat can be caused by an acute infection in the upper respiratory tract area, which includes the nose, sinuses, pharynx (the throat) and larynx (the voice box). An acute upper respiratory tract infection can lead to acute pharyngitis, acute tonsillitis, abscess (collection of pus) in the tissues around the tonsils/ throat, or inflammation of the tissues near the voice box. People suffering from chronic gastric acid reflux, commonly known as GERD, may often experience sore throat as the stomach acids leaking back up into the throat cause inflammation of the tissues near the voice box or pharynx. People who tend to breathe through the mouth or snore heavily because of a chronic nasal obstruction are likely to suffer frequently from sore throat, as do chronic smokers.

Is sore throat contagious?

It is contagious if it is caused by a viral infection.

What is the difference between a viral and bacterial sore throat? Which is more common, and how are they treated?

A sore throat caused by a viral or bacterial infection essentially has the same symptoms, although a viral infection can sometimes lead to a bacterial infection, which then worsens the sore throat.

A viral infection that causes acute pharyngitis is more common than one caused by bacteria. Doctors usually treat sore throat by letting it run its course. Patients are told to drink plenty of water and given medication such as painkillers and anti-fever medicine to alleviate the symptoms. If the doctor suspects that a bacterial infection is causing the sore throat, antibiotics will be prescribed.

Many people resort to home remedies such as gargling with a salt solution or a commercial mouthwash to treat a sore throat. When do you need to see a doctor?

You should consult a doctor if the sore throat persists and affects eating or drinking, or if you have difficulty breathing.

How effective are commercial gargles or antiseptic mouthwashes in treating a sore throat?

They can help relieve the symptoms of sore throat.

Why do some people frequently suffer from sore throat? Can regular use of an antiseptic gargle help? Is lifestyle a factor?

People who suffer repeatedly from acute or chronic tonsillitis, have gastric reflux, snore or breathe through the mouth because of obstructive sleep apnoea or chronic nasal obstruction, are likely to suffer frequently from sore throat. In these cases, the underlying cause has to be addressed.

Ref: T12