A sore throat is a feeling of discomfort, dryness or scratchiness/ itchiness of the throat that often makes swallowing difficult. Other symptoms that may be present include pain upon swallowing, a hoarse voice and swollen neck lymph nodes.It may be caused by a number of factors with infections being the most common cause. Upon examination, inflammation of the throat (pharyngitis) and surrounding structures looks like there is redness with swelling, making the area more bright and shiny than the normal appearance.
If a sore throat is present with the inability to swallow or difficulty breathing, immediate medical attention is necessary.
Viral Infections Causing Sore Throat
- Common cold.
A cold and the flu (seasonal influenza) are the most common causes of a sore throat. These are highly contagious viral infections, usually spread by coughing and sneezing, by inhaling the infected droplets in the air, by touching contaminated surfaces or even by shaking hands.
Other viral infections that can cause sore throat are :
- Infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever) – caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, it may be spread through the saliva or by coughing and sneezing.
- Croup is a viral infection, usually affecting young children, and is most frequently caused by the parainfluenza virus. Along with sore throat and fever, the child usually has a characteristic harsh, barking cough.
Bacterial Infections Causing Sore Throat
- Strep throat is the most common bacterial cause of a sore throat. Although it can occur in all age groups, children between the ages of 5 and 15 are most susceptible. The causative agent is the bacteria known as group A streptococcus or Streptococcus pyogenes. Timely diagnosis and treatment of strep throat is necessary to prevent complications, the most important of which are rheumatic fever and post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis.
- Diphtheria is rare these days because of routine childhood immunization (vaccine) against it, but may occur in non-immunized people. It is a serious bacterial infection, caused by Corynebacterium diptheriae, usually spread by coughing, sneezing or handling contaminated objects.
Other Causes of Sore Throat
Besides viral and bacterial infections, there may be some other reasons for a sore throat.
- Mouth breathing can make the throat dry and sore.
- Seasonal allergies such as allergic rhinitis.
- Exposure to dry, cold winter air.
- Sinus drainage – postnasal drip.
- Air pollution.
- Excessive cigarette smoking, including secondhand smoke.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD or GERD) which is the irritation of the throat that may be caused by regurgitation of stomach acids and fluids back into the oesophagus, usually due to a weakened oesophageal sphincter. This is also known as acid reflux and a common symptom is heartburn. A sore throat due to reflux often presents as a sore throat in the morning, upon waking.
- Strained throat muscles, often as a result of prolonged shouting or cheering loudly.
- Following prolonged antibiotic treatment or chemotherapy, there may be development of oral thrush due to candida infection (oral candidiasis). This is common in HIV/AIDS patients along with other mouth sores.
- Endotracheal intubation is the insertion of a tube into the larynx (windpipe) through the mouth or nose to facilitate breathing. This may need to be done as an emergency procedure or while giving anesthesia during an operation.
- Immunocompromised people, such as a person suffering from HIV/AIDS, may develop a chronic sore throat caused by a secondary infection such as oral thrush or cytomegalovirus.
- Tumors of the throat – benign or malignant (cancer).
- Foreign body in the throat like a fish bone.
- Following surgery, such as tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy, post-operative pain is a common feature.
Any itching or soreness of the throat that comes on suddenly after eating certain foods may be the start of an anaphylactic allergic reaction. See your doctor immediately.