Sore throats are characterised by pain and a raw or rough feeling in the throat. These symptoms are often accompanied by

  • Pain and discomfort on swallowing;· red, swollen tonsils (the area of tissue on either side of the back of the mouth);· hoarseness or complete loss of voice; and
  • Enlargement and tenderness of the glands in the neck

Causes

Sore throats are often caused by a viral infection such as a cold or flu. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics; the body usually begins to fight the infection itself within a few days. Occasionally sore throats are caused by bacterial infections which may respond to antibiotic treatment. Infections such as tonsillitis or glandular fever can also cause a sore throat. In children, a sore throat may be the first sign of a common childhood illness such as chickenpox, measles or mumps.A sore throat can be caused by taking certain medicines such as carbimazole, methotrexate and sulfasalazine. If a medicine is likely to cause a sore throat, it should be listed as a side effect on the medicine label or information leaflet. If you think that your sore throat is due to medication you are taking, tell your doctor.Using inhalers may also lead to the development of a sore throat. When the medication is inhaled it can hit the back of the throat which can decrease the body's resistance to infection in that area. This is particularly the case with steroid or 'preventer' inhalers. A sore throat can also be caused by smoking, drinking alcohol, inhaling dust or other irritants, straining your voice, changes in air temperature and by reflux (when acid from the stomach flows backwards into the oesophagus).

Avoiding Sore Throats

If you think your sore throat is caused by using an inhaler, you may find that rinsing your mouth with water after using your inhaler can help. By doing this any powder left in the mouth after inhaling your dose will be washed away. Another way of reducing the amount of powder in the mouth is to use a 'spacer' device to inhale each dose. Speak to your pharmacist he will be able to advise you on inhaler techniques.

Treatment

If you have a sore throat, it is important to drink plenty of fluid to avoid dehydration. It is also important to keep eating, even if you find it uncomfortable to swallow. Try soft foods such as soup and yoghurt.Gargling with a warm salt solution can help to relieve inflammation in the throat. Use about one teaspoon of salt in a glass of water (8 fl oz or 225ml) and gargle each mouthful about three times before spitting it out. Repeat this with 4-5 mouthfuls until all the solution has been used.Gargling with soluble aspirin solution can also help to ease a sore throat. You may swallow the solution if you are not taking another pain relieving medicine. Aspirin is not recommended for children and may not be suitable for all adults. Ask your pharmacist for a leaflet on aspirin before taking it.Simple pain relief treatments can help to ease aches and pains and reduce fever. Ask your pharmacist for advice.Sucking pastilles or lozenges can help to ease a sore throat by increasing the amount of saliva produced in the mouth. Some products contain anaesthetics, which help to numb the pain. Local anaesthetic sprays are also available. They can reduce pain directly at the site of infection.

Some children can gargle but others find it more difficult. If your child has a sore throat, encourage them to gargle with paracetamol solution before swallowing. Use a flavoured paracetamol solution suitable for your child's age group. If your child is too young to gargle you may still want to give them a dose of paracetamol to relieve pain and fever. Never give your child more than the recommended dose, do not give doses more often than every 4-6 hours and do not give more than 4 doses in 24 hours. See the bottle for recommended doses. Do not give paracetamol to a child for more than three days without first seeing a doctor.

When To See A Doctor

If your sore throat is accompanied by a stiff neck or a rash you should see a doctor immediately.If your sore throat has not improved after seven days, you should visit your doctor. You may have a bacterial infection which needs to be treated with antibiotics. You will need to see your doctor if you develop pain around your ears, if you have difficulty swallowing, if you have difficulty breathing, if you have a very high fever or if your sore throat is on one side only.

If you have reduced immunity or if you think the sore throat may be due to medication you are taking you should also see a doctor.

Additional Information

Leaflets about colds, coughs and influenza are also available from this pharmacy.