Most often, a sore throat is a symptom of a mild cold and is usually due to a viral infection, but approximately 10% of the time bacterial infections like strep throat can be the cause.
Pharyngitis, which commonly causes a sore throat, is inflammation of the pharynx and is characterised by redness, swelling and pain which makes swallowing and sometimes even talking, difficult.
Read: Home remedies for a sore throat
How sore throat lozenges work
Most lozenges can be purchased over-the-counter and work by dissolving in the mouth slowly as you suck them, lubricating the throat lining and easing irritation. The suck action is necessary to activate the ingredients in them and to dissolve the lozenge to stimulate the salivary gland to produce saliva, which then mixes with the ingredients to coat the throat lining, reducing pain, dryness and itchiness of the throat.
These typically contain local anaesthetics that help by numbing the throat.
Different brands of lozenges have different combinations of ingredients. Some of the most common ingredients include:
Antibacterials: The most common antibacterial ingredients include cetylpyridinium chloride, amylmetacresol, dichlorobenzyl alcohol and hexylresorcinol. These all target the bacteria that causes the sore throat. Cetylpyridinium chloride is a very mild antiseptic which works by killing the bacteria which is often related to the sore throat and possible throat infection.
Anaesthetics: Numbing agents found in the most effective throat lozenges help ease the pain and soreness associated with the sore throat. The most commonly used anaesthetics used are lignocaine hydrochloride and benzocaine. Benzocaine causes numbness and relieves pain at the area it is applied to.
Menthol and eucalyptus: These are both used in lozenges as a nasal decongestant aimed at cooling and soothing the throat.
Pain medication: Pain ingredients include benzydamine hydrochloride and flurbiprofen which are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They work by reducing inflammation. You may be required to have a prescription in order to purchase lozenges containing NSAIDs.
Read: 9 ways to prevent sore throats
Tips for using lozenges
Lozenges which contain only natural ingredients can be used by most people, but those which contain painkillers and anaesthetics have been associated with some side-effects and should not be used:
- If you have asthma and/or allergies
- If you’re allergic to painkillers
- If you are on heart disease medication
- If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding – consult your doctor first
A sore throat most often resolves itself in three to four days, however if it persists past a week or your symptoms worsen to include severe difficulty swallowing or breathing, you develop a fever or tender or swollen lymph glands in the neck, you need to see your doctor.
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Image: Woman holding her throat in pain from Shutterstock