American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Sore Throat? Know When to Call the Doctor

Sick man drinking teaNot only are sore throats painful, but they also are one of the top reasons for trips to the doctor and sick days taken from work or school. Anyone who has ever suffered from a sore throat knows just how miserable it can be. According to Phillip L. Accardo, DO, an osteopathic physician from Lee’s Summit, Mo., the key to treating a sore throat involves a combination of at-home therapy and knowing when it’s time to call your physician. 

Causes

“A sore throat can be caused by any number of factors,” says Dr. Accardo. “These factors can include the common cold; throat irritation as a result of low humidity; smoking; air pollution; yelling; nasal drainage down the back of the throat; or even breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose.” 

There are other less common causes for a sore throat, which can include strep throat, mononucleosis (otherwise known as “mono” or the “kissing disease”) or tonsillitis.

Home Treatment

Dr. Accardo recommends the following home treatment for a sore throat:

  • Gargling at least once an hour with warm salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort.

  • Drinking hot fluids such as tea or soup. Hot fluids soothe the throat and help thin sinus mucus. This allows better drainage and decreased stuffiness.

  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.

  • Adults should consider taking nonprescription medications such as throat lozenges; decongestants; acetaminophen or even anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

Seeing a Physician

In most cases, your sore throat will be healed with at-home treatment. However, it’s time to see your doctor if a severe sore throat and a fever over 101 degrees lasts longer than one to two days; you have difficulty sleeping because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids; or a red rash appears that feels like sandpaper, which could be a symptom of scarlet fever. 

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it could mean that you have a bacterial infection. In that case, your doctor may decide to prescribe an antibiotic to treat your infection.  

“For adults who have cases of repeat bacterial throat infections within a relatively short period of time a physician may recommend a tonsillectomy,” says Dr. Accardo.  

A tonsillectomy (the surgical removal of the tonsils) may also be recommended if abscesses of the tonsils do not respond to drainage; there is a persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth that is caused by tonsillitis and does not respond to antibiotics; or a biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the tonsil.  

“However, a tonsillectomy should always be the last resort for treating sore throats,” warns Dr. Accardo. “The best treatment for a sore throat is prevention.” 

Prevention

Dr. Accardo recommends preventing a sore throat by replacing your toothbrush every month and tossing an old toothbrush once you’ve recovered from a sore throat to prevent re-infection. You should also stop smoking, which can be abrasive to the throat.  

“Also, be sure to wash your hands often, eat right and get plenty of sleep to help ward off illness,” advises Dr. Accardo. 

 

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