A sore throat is usually due to an infection caused by a virus or bacteria, but other causes such as trauma, foreign bodies, reflux, ulcerations, neurologic disorders, boney abnormalities, scar tissue, and even tumors can originally present themselves with symptoms of sore throat. Other frequent contributing factors to sore throats include environmental allergies, sinus infections with resultant postnasal drip, gastric reflux into the throat, as well as irritation from dry heat, pollutants, chemicals, and voice strain.
A mild sore throat can often be treated conservatively by increasing liquid intake, using a steamer or humidifier, gargling with warm salt water, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or Ibuprofen.
If your sore throat is more severe, is not related to an identified and avoidable allergy or another source of irritation, and lasts longer than five to seven days, you should seek medical care from your primary care physician if you have one. If your sore throat becomes recurrent or chronic (lasting more than 12 weeks), CornerStone Ear, Nose & Throat physicians can assist your doctor by determining if different antibiotics are needed, or if your sore throat is the symptom of a more serious condition, such as an abscess or tumor.
The following signs and symptoms related to a persistent sore throat should alert you to see a primary care, emergency, or urgent care physician:
- A sore throat lasting more than five days
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Joint pain
- Fever (over 101°)
When the sore throat lasts constantly for more than a month despite medical therapy or occurs in a smoker or person who drinks or drank a significant amount of alcohol over time, or if the following signs are also noticed, an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otolaryngologist) should be consulted immediately:
- Blood in saliva or phlegm
- Lump in the neck
- Weight loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness for more than a month