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Sore Throat: Causes & Treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 381 views

Sore throats are usually caused by an infection, such as a cold or tonsillitis. But sometimes there is something completely different behind it, for example an inflammation of the esophagus or a foreign body that has been swallowed. Accompanying symptoms such as pain when swallowing or fever help to find the cause. Read everything you need to know about the topic here: What can cause a sore throat? How does the doctor find the cause? How to treat a sore throat

quick overview

  • Causes: including infections (colds, flu , tonsillitis, mumps , rubella , measles , scarlet fever, herpangina, oral thrush, glandular fever , diphtheria , thyroiditis , etc.), inflammation of the esophagus , trachea or bronchi, reflux disease, chemical burns or burns of the throat or the Esophagus, tumors, insect bites , or foreign objects in the throat or esophagus
  • When to the doctor? In the case of very severe and very sudden symptoms, severe difficulty in swallowing, prolonged or worsening sore throat, serious accompanying symptoms (such as high fever, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, cramps or stiff neck). See a doctor immediately if you have swallowed a foreign body, chemical burns or burns in your throat or esophagus, or if you have an insect bite or bite in your throat or throat!
  • What helps with a sore throat? In the case of a sore throat and difficulty swallowing caused by an infection, potato or quark wraps, gargling , cool drinks, liquid and soft foods are recommended. If necessary, painkillers and local anesthetics and disinfectants (lozenges, spray, etc.). If possible, treat the cause, eg antibiotics for bacterial infections and antifungal agents for fungal infections.

Sore throat: causes

There are many different causes of a sore throat and pain when swallowing. Here are the most important:

Sore throat from infection

The most common causes of sore throat and sore throat are viruses and bacteria:

  • Sore throats almost always occur with colds and flu-like infections . Together with a runny nose , tiredness , fever , cough , headache and body aches, the sore throat contributes to the pronounced feeling of illness.
  • A sore throat is also often a pronounced symptom of the real flu (influenza).
  • tonsillitis (tonsillitis) can be recognized by white-yellowish coatings on the swollen, usually very painful tonsils.
  • The inflammation of the epiglottis ( epiglottitis ) typically triggers high fever, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, paleness and a whistling noise when inhaling.
  • Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract. It can also be accompanied by a severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
  • Mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and is usually harmless. Many of those affected carry the pathogen but do not become ill. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms and often a sore throat.
  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by viruses or bacteria can also trigger a sore throat. In addition, it usually comes to swallowing difficulties and pressure sensitivity of the thyroid gland . Sometimes it is not germs but an autoimmune reaction of the body that triggers thyroid inflammation. Then a sore throat or difficulty swallowing can also be absent.

Other causes

Other possible triggers for a sore throat or pain when swallowing include:

  • Inflammation of the trachea, bronchi, or esophagus : It can cause pain in the throat and behind the breastbone, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Reflux disease : This is when acidic stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. This can cause pain and difficulty swallowing for those affected. Frequent acid regurgitation or inflammation of the larynx indicates reflux disease.
  • Foreign objects in the throat or esophagus : They can cause irritation, inflammation, pain and difficulty swallowing.
  • Chemical burns and scalding of the throat or esophagus: They can also be the reason for a sore throat and difficulty swallowing.
  • Insect bites or stings in the throat: They can cause pain and severe swelling of the mucous membranes, which can even be life-threatening!
  • Tumors : Tumors such as pharynx, esophagus, tonsil, larynx or tongue are among the most serious causes of persistent sore throat.
  • Irritants : Chronic throat problems (sore, dry feeling in the throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, lumpiness) often result from prolonged or repeated exposure of the pharyngeal mucosa to harmful influences such as nicotine, alcohol, chemicals, dust, irritant gases or certain medications.

Sore throat in children

Children often suffer from sore throats. In addition to a common cold, triggers can also be childhood diseases such as mumps, measles or rubella. But scarlet fever and tonsillitis are also more common in children than in adults. Sore throat, difficulty swallowing and swelling in the throat can become so severe that the little patients no longer want to eat solid food.

Here is a summary of the most common causes of sore throats in children:

  • Oral thrush is a fungal disease with whitish-gray coatings on the lining of the mouth and throat. Babies in the first six months of life are particularly susceptible to it. Bleeding occurs easily when attempting to remove plaque. In addition to a sore throat, fever and poor drinking can occur.
  • While scarlet fever is not a typical childhood disease, it is more common in children than in adults. The bacterial infection manifests itself with yellow-white dots on the tonsils and red spots on the skin .
  • Mumps is a viral childhood disease that often causes a sore throat (among other symptoms).
  • Rubella and measles are also often announced by cold-like symptoms and a sore throat.
  • Herpangina caused by the Coxsackie virus is an inflammation of the oral mucosa, which primarily affects the palatine arches and tonsils. Fever, fatigue, vomiting, headache and sore throat are typical symptoms.

What helps against a sore throat?

The simplest and most effective remedy for a sore throat and the associated difficulty in swallowing is to avoid pressure and friction on the irritated mucous membranes. Soft or liquid foods such as porridge, soups, yoghurt and juices are therefore recommended instead of hard foods – they make swallowing easier. Cool drinks or ice cream often have a short-term pain-relieving effect .

Tip: If you have mumps, avoid acidic foods and drinks! These stimulate the flow of saliva, which additionally irritates the inflamed parotid gland.

Medicines for sore throat

Drug treatment of a sore throat treats the cause of the symptoms whenever possible. For example, antibiotics may be needed for severe bacterial infections in the throat or tonsillitis . In the case of a fungal disease in the mouth, special antifungal agents (e.g. as a mouthwash) can help.

In the case of viral diseases and most “teething troubles”, on the other hand, only symptomatic treatment is often possible: With suitable remedies, attempts are made to alleviate a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fever, headache and body aches. Above all, painkillers and fever medication as well as local anesthetics and disinfectants are available for this purpose. For example, there are analgesic and disinfecting lozenges and sprays in the pharmacy that can help against a sore throat. Many of these are available without a prescription.

Home remedies for sore throat

What helps against a sore throat? In addition to medication, there are also various home remedies that help against a sore throat. These include teas, throat wraps, gargling solutions, and certain foods.

In the following sections you will learn how to use home remedies for a sore throat correctly.

Tea for a sore throat

Teas help against a sore throat simply because of the heat that relieves the symptoms. In addition, some of the medicinal plants contained have a slightly disinfecting and anti-inflammatory effect. This can speed up the healing process.

If you want to get rid of a sore throat quickly, it is best to use the following medicinal plant teas:

  • Sage : Sage tea works against bacteria and viruses. It is also antispasmodic and has a contractive effect on the mucous membranes. This is why sage tea is a good choice for a sore throat.
  • Ginger : A tea made from fresh ginger also helps against a sore throat because the bulbous plant contains anti-inflammatory agents.
  • Mullein : The flowers of the mullein are effective against various cold symptoms, especially a sore throat. Because of its pleasant taste and mild effect, the medicinal plant is also suitable for children.
  • Verbena : Verbena is said to have a mild antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Thyme : A tea made from thyme herb has an antispasmodic effect on the bronchi, stimulates expectoration and is anti-inflammatory.
  • Ribwort plantain : A tea made from ribwort plantain leaves has an anti-inflammatory and bactericidal effect, stimulates the immune system and also inhibits coughing. The tea is a good sore throat home remedy.

You can read more about the preparation, use and daily dose of the teas in the relevant medicinal plant texts.

Gargle: get rid of a sore throat quickly

Gargling is also a home remedy that relieves a sore throat.

gargling solutions

Gargling solutions from the pharmacy are also suitable. You can also prepare a gargle solution yourself. A gargle has an expectorant effect, inhibits bacteria and relieves a sore throat. Suitable additives are:

  • Salt
  • lemon juice
  • Apple Cider Vinegar

How to use : Mix a glass of lukewarm water with either two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, one tablespoon of lemon juice or one teaspoon of sea salt and stir well. Put a small amount of the gargling solution in your mouth and rinse and gargle your mouth and throat several times a day.

You can also use the following infusions to gargle with a sore throat:

You can read more about the correct application in the article on gargling .

teas for gargling

All of the above teas that you drink for a sore throat can be used to gargle. Allow the freshly prepared tea to cool down a little and gargle with it several times a day.

  • Marigold tea: Prepared as a tea, the leaves of the marigold have an anti-inflammatory effect and promote wound healing . Gargling with marigold tea is therefore a good home remedy for a sore throat. Application : Pour 150 milliliters of hot water over one to two grams of marigold blossoms. Leave for ten minutes. Strain off plant parts. Gargle with the cooled infusion several times a day or rinse your mouth.
  • Oak bark tea : The bark of the oak contains tannins and thus has a contracting effect on the mucous membranes. A gargling solution made from oak bark tea keeps viruses at bay and may aid healing. Use : Put 20 grams of oak bark in one liter of cold water and bring to the boil (from the age of ten). Leave for five to ten minutes and then strain through a cloth. Once the decoction has cooled, you can use the tea as a gargle for a sore throat or a mild sore throat.

For children from one to three years, the decoction is made with five to ten grams of oak bark per liter of water, for four to nine-year-old children with ten to twenty grams per liter.

Neck wrap for sore throat

Neck wraps promise quick relief for sore throats. Both warm and cold compresses can relieve a sore throat. Whether heat or cold is more suitable depends on the patient’s personal feelings.

Cold neck wraps

Some sore throat patients find cool neck wraps pleasant.

  • Quarkwickel gegen Halsschmerzen: Eine kalte Quarkauflagen wirkt entzündungshemmend, kühlend und lindert Halsschmerzen. Anwendung: Dazu ein- bis zweimal täglich 250 bis 500 Gramm Quark auf Zimmertemperatur bringen und auf eine Mullkompresse streichen. Kompresse mit dem überstehenden Mull und einem Baumwolltuch abdecken. Quarkauflage um den Hals legen und dabei die Wirbelsäule auslassen. Mit einem weiteren Tuch abdecken und fixieren. Je nach Körpertemperatur bis zu vier Stunden wirken lassen, bis der Quark warm ist.
  • Prießnitz neck wrap : A cool, damp neck wrap according to Prießnitz stimulates the metabolism, lowers blood pressure and relieves a sore throat. Application : Put a cloth in cold water (10-18 degrees), wring it out and put it around your neck. Spare the spine. Cover with a dry cloth and leave on for 30 minutes to several hours. After removing the wrap, protect your neck from the cold. Apply a Prießnitz neck wrap once a day.
  • Healing earth pad : A cold healing earth pad relieves pain and inhibits inflammation. Application : Mix the desired amount of healing clay with a little cold water to form a spreadable paste and apply about 0.5 to 2 cm thick directly to the neck. Cover with a cloth and fix with another cloth. Leave on for one to two hours until the healing clay is dry. Then clean the skin, dry it and care for it with olive oil if necessary. You can use the healing earth pad once or twice a day.

Warm neck wrap

Warm neck wraps provide more relief for some sore throat sufferers.

  • Hot Neck Wrap : A hot neck wrap promotes blood circulation and has a relaxing effect, thereby relieving pain. Application : Roll up the cotton cloth from both sides towards the middle and roll lengthways in a tea towel. Place this roll in a bowl with both ends sticking out. Pour 500 to 750 milliliters of boiling water over the wrap. Allow to soak briefly and wring out well. Then carefully place the hot cotton towel around your neck, avoiding your spine. Leave on for 20 to 30 minutes. Use up to twice a day.

There is a risk of burns from the hot water! If the wrap is still too hot, let it cool down a bit.

  • Potato wraps : A warm potato wrap also has a sore throat effect. Application : Drain 500 grams of soft-boiled potatoes and allow to evaporate. Place the potatoes on a cloth and mash with a fork or knife blade. Close the pad to form a packet. Place a towel over the neck and place the potato topping on top. Fix with another cloth and leave on for 30 to 60 minutes.

Warm neck wraps are unsuitable for some cardiovascular diseases or neurological complaints. Talk to your doctor before use.

You can read more about the different compresses and their use in the article Neck compress against sore throat .

What to eat when you have a sore throat

Sore throat: what to do to make the discomfort go away quickly? The simplest and most effective remedy for a sore throat and the associated difficulty in swallowing is to avoid pressure and friction on the irritated mucous membranes. Soft or liquid foods such as porridge, soups, yoghurt and juices are therefore recommended – they make swallowing easier.

Another tip against a sore throat is the consumption of certain foods. Due to their anti-inflammatory properties, they are suitable as home remedies for sore throats. This includes:

  • Honey milk : Honey can be a real magic bullet against a sore throat. Honey milk, for example, soothes irritated throat mucosa and also promotes a good night’s sleep. The combination of milk and honey also has a slightly expectorant and anti-inflammatory effect. Application : Heat a glass of milk and dissolve a teaspoon of honey in it. If you have a sore throat, drink the milk warm and in small sips.
  • Onion : Another sore throat home remedy is onion. Its ingredients have an anti-inflammatory and germ-inhibiting effect and can help against pain. How to use : To make your own onion juice for a sore throat, peel and dice a large onion and place in a clean mason jar. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar, close the jar tightly and shake. After about two hours, a sweet onion syrup will form. Now sift out the onion pieces and take one to two tablespoons of it several times a day.
  • Garlic : The bulb has a germ-inhibiting and disinfecting effect. An effective dose is four grams of fresh garlic per day. That’s about two to three toes. If you don’t like chewing the garlic raw, you can chop it up and eat it in a salad or on bread.
  • Blackcurrant Juice : Blackcurrants are high in vitamin C. Dilute the unsweetened juice with hot water and drink in small sips. This is beneficial when you have a cold or flu with a sore throat.

Ice cream for a sore throat?

Licking ice cream can provide short-term relief from a sore throat. Cold drinks also work. They cool the irritated mucous membrane in the mouth and throat. Many patients find this pleasant. However, ice cream does not help against the inflammation.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not improve or even get worse despite treatment, you should always consult a doctor.

Sore throat: description

A sore throat is often described by those affected as a burning, scratching or stabbing pain in the throat or larynx area. A feeling of dryness in the throat, pain when swallowing and hoarseness can also occur. A feeling of lumpiness can also occur. Patients usually localize it deeper in the throat.

In most cases, such acute symptoms are associated with an inflammation of the pharyngeal mucosa caused by viruses or bacteria. The mucous membrane is then noticeably reddened and often visibly swollen. The tonsils and the lymph nodes that can be palpated from the outside under the lower jaw can also be swollen due to infection – a sign of the body’s defense against the pathogens.

A sore throat caused by an infection usually goes away on its own within a few days. They are among the most common complaints with which patients visit a general practitioner.

Sore Throat: When to See a Doctor?

In most cases, the cause of a sore throat is a so-called bagatelle infection – a flu-like illness that is usually triggered by viruses. The sore throat lasts only a few days. A doctor’s visit is usually not necessary. However, if the sore throat does not improve within a few days or even worsens and is possibly accompanied by more serious symptoms (such as swelling of the lymph nodes or fever), you should consult a doctor.

You should also take severe sore throats in connection with fever, noticeably red and inflamed tonsils and difficulty swallowing seriously. You should see a doctor, especially if you have serious symptoms such as high fever or shortness of breath.

It is also advisable to see a doctor if you suspect reflux disease. Those affected often complain of a sore throat, hoarseness and the urge to clear their throat, especially in the morning.

Severe swelling in the throat or in the area of ​​the root of the tongue that does not subside after a short time, as well as swelling of the lymph nodes that can be felt from the outside, can indicate a serious illness (such as a tumor). The cause of such symptoms should therefore be clarified by a doctor as soon as possible.

A case for the pediatrician

If your child complains of a sore throat, the urgency of seeing the doctor depends on the severity of the symptoms. If you suspect oral thrush or scarlet fever in a baby or toddler, you should consult a pediatrician immediately. A doctor should also diagnose mumps, rubella, measles and herpangina.

Sore throat as an emergency

If a foreign body in the throat or pharynx causes the pain and you cannot remove it yourself, you should consult a doctor immediately. You should not hesitate to see a doctor if you have burns or scalds in your mouth and throat.

Also an emergency are insect bites or stings in the mouth or throat . The poison can cause a strong allergic reaction of the mucous membrane. Sometimes, within minutes, the swelling becomes so severe that it becomes difficult to breathe . Young children in particular are often unable to name the cause of the sudden sore throat. If you suspect an insect bite, you should call an ambulance.

If patients with a sore throat and fever also develop cramps or stiff neck , a doctor must also be contacted immediately. Meningitis is suspected!

Sore throat: investigations

In conversation with the patient (in children: with the parents), the doctor can first collect the medical history (anamnesis). Among other things, he asks how long the sore throat has existed, how severe it is and whether there are other symptoms (fever, difficulty swallowing, headaches, etc.).

Then follows a physical examination . A look into the throat tells the doctor whether there is an infection, recognizable by reddening, swelling, blisters or pus in the mouth or throat. In addition, the doctor feels the lymph nodes, especially under the lower jaw and along the neck organs. They may be enlarged and/or hardened. Severe swelling of the parotid gland is typical of mumps-related sore throats; boys may also experience testicular pain. If the sore throat is related to scarlet fever, measles or rubella, the doctor will recognize this from the typical skin changes.

Saliva, blood and tissue samples

With a throat swab, the doctor can search for pathogens that are often responsible for the pain in the throat. A blood test can also provide evidence of infection or inflammation in the body. In addition, tumor markers and hormone levels can be checked in this way . In the case of a tumor in the mouth, throat or throat, the doctor can also take a tissue sample ( biopsy ) to clarify a suspected tumor.

Further investigations

If necessary, the doctor can also use imaging tests to clarify a sore throat. Many changes such as swellings, tumors, bulges in the upper esophagus or changes in the thyroid gland can be detected by ultrasound examination. Even more information about the shape and nature of the neck organs is provided by magnetic resonance imaging (magnetic resonance imaging, MRI), which is used in particular if a tumor is suspected.

Using laryngeal endoscopy, bronchoscopy (examination of the bronchi with an endoscope) and gastroscopy , the doctor can detect changes in the inner mucous membranes that can be behind pain in the throat and difficulty swallowing.

For such further examinations of unexplained sore throats , the family doctor often issues a referral to a specialist (such as an ENT doctor, radiologist or gastroenterologist).

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