Common cold or Strep throat? How to tell what is going on with your sore throat 

Burning; scratchy; dry; raw; like swallowing razors: sore throats are going around at the moment, caused by a variety of symptoms. How bad is it? Are you suffering from the cold virus or do you need antibiotics to beat strep throat? Here is our breakdown of various throat ailments and symptoms from the flu to tonsillitis. 

The common cold or flu
Often a mild sore throat goes hand in hand with the common cold and flu virus and cannot be treated by antibiotics. If it’s flu, you may also have a runny nose, cough, body aches, headaches and possibly a mild fever. Sore throats can also be caused by allergies such as hay fever, dry air, irritants and pollution and smoke. If your sore throat is worrying you, it’s best see a doctor to identify causes and treatment recommendations to help relieve the pain. 

Laryngitis is when your vocal cords or voice box become puffed up and irritated. It can strike suddenly and is at its worst during the first three days, but it can last for one to two weeks. You may sound croaky and hoarse and it could even make you lose your voice temporarily. Symptoms of Laryngitis can include soreness, difficulty speaking, mild fever and an irritating cough. In most cases Laryngitis is viral and will get better with rest and lots of fluid. Acid reflux can cause Laryngitis so if you are sensitive to indigestion raise your pillow at night. Resting your voice is also important, shouting and singing loudly should be avoided and stay away from smoky environments. Acute Laryngitis can sometimes be caused by bacteria and may need antibiotic treatment. If your symptoms persist for longer than two weeks or you’re concerned in any way, be sure to see a doctor.  

Tonsillitis is when the tonsils become inflamed by a viral or bacterial infection. The tonsils are the two glands that sit on either side of the throat, when they are infected they look red and angry and sometimes they have white spots on them. It most commonly affects children and teenagers. Symptoms of tonsillitis can include a high fever, inflamed tonsils, difficulty or pain when swallowing, bad breath, a change in the sound of a person’s voice, stomach ache, stiff neck and a headache. In very young children, that can’t always verbalise their pain, the symptoms could also include drooling, refusal to eat and unusual fussiness. If the symptoms are severe and you are struggling to eat or drink with the pain, or struggling to breathe, it is important to see a doctor. Also, if the symptoms persist for longer than a few days we recommend checking with a doctor.  

Strep throat
Strep (streptococcal) throat is an infection of the throat caused by bacteria and responds quickly to antibiotics. Strep throat can be very painful; sometimes the cause of tonsillitis, it is generally more severe, lasts for longer and, in rare cases, can lead to complications. Symptoms of strep can include white patches on the tonsils and throat, red spots on the roof of the mouth, a high fever (38.8+), headaches, a sore stomach and even vomiting. Strep throat is also very contagious, but in general will stop being contagious 24 hours after starting antibiotics.  

This is a grim complication of tonsillitis and can be serious often needing you to go to hospital. Pus filled abscesses form between your tonsils and the wall of your throat. You will need antibiotics to clear the infection and at least two weeks to recover afterwards. Symptoms are again very similar to tonsillitis, but can also include swelling of the face or neck, fever and chills, difficulty opening your mouth fully, problems swallowing and swelling of the roof of the mouth or throat.  

The epiglottis is the flap of tissue between the tongue and back of the throat; it closes the windpipe when you are eating to prevent food from entering the airway. When you have epiglottitis it becomes swollen and inflamed due to infection, which can make it difficult to breathe. If you have epiglottitis you will look very ill, your heart rate may be fast, you might have a fever and you could have a high-pitched whistling sound when trying to breathe. Epiglottitis is a medical emergency as it can restrict the flow of oxygen and needs to be attended to immediately. 

Glandular fever
Glandular fever is a viral infection marked by a sore throat and swollen glands. 90% of us have come into contact with this virus at some point in our lives. It can wipe you out for a couple of weeks with tiredness, sometimes lingering for several months and the best way to deal with glandular fever is to drink lots of fluids and to rest.  

What to do to prevent and relieve a sore throat 

In order to help prevent catching any sort of virus or bacteria causing a sore throat we recommend regularly washing your hands with soap and water. Also keep door handles, keyboards, telephones and any areas that hands frequently touch disinfected. The average person touches their face 16 times an hour, trying to consciously reduce this will also help prevent the spread of any nasty bugs.  

If you do get a sore throat you can try to ease the pain with a calming saltwater gargle by mixing approximately 120mls of warm water with 1⁄4 teaspoon of sea salt. Swill the saline solution around the back of your throat and then spit it out. For a mild sore throat lemon and honey does also help – the honey coats the throat with a soothing balm and the lemon helps flush out any mucus. 

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