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Sore throat: easing the pain of a sore throat.

What causes sore throats?

Sore throats can be caused by many things. Viruses and bacteria can lead to infections that can cause the throat to swell and become very sore. Other things that can cause sore throat include smoking, breathing polluted air, drinking alcohol, and hay fever and other allergies.

What is tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis means swelling of the tonsils. It's usually caused by a bacterial infection, though sometimes a virus may be involved. Your tonsils are located toward the back of your tongue on each side of your throat. Signs of strep throat and tonsillitis are often alike (see the box to the right).

If I have tonsillitis, will I need a tonsillectomy?

A tonsillectomy is the surgery used to remove tonsils. Most people who have tonsillitis don't need a tonsillectomy. You might need a tonsillectomy if you get severe tonsillitis a lot or if your tonsils are too large and cause problems with your breathing. Your doctor can tell you if a tonsillectomy is needed.

What is strep throat?

Strep throat is caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus. The pain of strep throat often feels much like sore throats that are caused by other bacteria or by viruses. What's important and different about strep throat is that untreated strep infections can sometimes result in rheumatic fever, which can damage the valves of the heart and other organs of the body. Rheumatic fever can be prevented with antibiotics.

What is mononucleosis?

Mononucleosis (mono) is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. One of the main signs of mono is sore throat. Other signs include swollen glands in your throat, armpits and groin, fever and chills, headache, problems breathing, white patches on your tonsils, and feeling tired.

How does a bacterial infection differ from a viral infection? The main difference is that coughing and having a runny nose are more common with viral infections. But it's very hard to tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection. Your doctor may do tests to find out what's causing your sore throat.

What tests may be used to find the cause of my sore throat? Your doctor may do a rapid strep test, a throat culture or both. A rapid strep test will give results fast (usually within an hour). But the test won't tell if your sore throat is caused by a bacterium other than Streptococcus or if it's caused by a virus. A throat culture takes longer--about 24 hours--but it's more accurate. If your doctor thinks you may have mono, he or she will probably do a blood test.

What is the treatment for a sore throat caused by bacteria? If your sore throat is caused by Streptococcus, your family doctor will probably prescribe penicillin, taken by mouth for 10 days. Another antibiotic, called erythromycin, can be used if you're allergic to penicillin. If your sore throat is caused by a different bacterium, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics that will help kill that bacterium.

If your doctor gives you an antibiotic, be sure you take all of the medicine. Taking all of the medicine helps ensure that the infection doesn't come back or cause you other problems.

What is the treatment for a sore throat caused by a virus? If your sore throat is caused by a virus, antibiotics won't help. Infections caused by viruses usually just have to run their course. The symptoms will go away when your body has built up its defenses against the virus. Most symptoms caused by a cold-type virus go away in a week to 10 days. Symptoms caused by mono can last for four weeks or more.

If you have mono, your doctor will probably suggest that you get plenty of rest and that you not exercise too hard. You can take acetaminophen (Datril, Panadol, Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin) for the headache and other aches. The tips in the box below can help ease the pain of sore throat.

How can I avoid catching or passing a sore throat?

The best ways to avoid catching or passing the viruses and bacteria that can lead to a sore throat are to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your eyes or mouth, and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Symptoms of tonsillitis or strep throat

* Sore throat

* Fever

* Headache

* Vomiting

* White patches in your throat or on your tonsils

* Pain when you swallow

* Swollen, red tonsils

* Sore glands in your jaw and throat

* Redness

Easing the pain of a sore throat

* Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

* Gargle with warm salt water (I teaspoon of salt per glass of water).

* Suck on throat lozenges or hard candy.

* Eat soft foods.

* Suck on flavored frozen desserts (such as Popsicles).

* Use a humidifier.

This brochure provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this brochure applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to your family doctor.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Academy of Family Physicians
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Pamphlet by: American Academy of Family Physicians
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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