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Sore throat

09 May 2019

What may be causing my persistent sore throat?

Are you experiencing a scratchy throat – without a cold, flu or fever – that's simply not clearing up? Here’s what could be causing your chronic sore throat.

A sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of a cold or flu and mostly disappears after a few days. But what if your sore throat is simply not getting better? Or do you have a sore throat without an accompanying cold, flu or fever?

Here are some other conditions that can cause a persistent sore throat:

1. Acid reflux

Why it can cause a sore throat: While we don’t often connect a sore throat with digestive issues, the throat is also part of the digestive system. In the case of acid reflux, you may experience a sore throat when acid is constantly pushing back up into the throat, reaching past the oesophagus, even up to the voice box. In addition to a sore, irritated throat, you may also experience hoarseness, a bad taste in the mouth, or a chronic dry cough, especially at night.

What you can do: If you suspect acid reflux as the cause of your sore throat, you can control it with antacids. You can also reduce acid reflux by avoiding heavy meals before bedtime, limiting the amount of coffee or alcohol you drink, and elevating the head of your bed by about 15cm.

2. Allergies

Why it can cause a sore throat: Seasonal allergies can lead to increasing amounts of mucus from congested sinuses, causing post-nasal drip, which in turn, can cause an irritated, raw throat.

What you can do: Allergy medication may help to reduce the post-nasal drip. You may benefit from an antihistamine or decongestant. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist to determine which medicine is the most suited to treat your allergy. There are several over-the-counter antihistamines that may help reduce your allergies.

3. Mouth breathing

Why it can cause a sore throat: A stuffy nose can cause you to constantly breathe through your mouth, especially while you are asleep. Breathing through your nose is generally regarded as better, as it acts as a filter for the allergens and irritants in the air. Your nose also adds moisture to the air to prevent dryness. When you breathe through your mouth, however, your throat can become irritated and dry, especially noticeable when you wake up.

What you can do: There are a number of reasons why you may breathe through your mouth, including a cold, dental issues, asthma, sinusitis, or an obstruction in the airways. It’s important to target the cause so that you can breathe normally through your nose.

4. Tonsillitis

Why it can cause a sore throat: If you constantly have a sore throat without any relief, you may have inflamed tonsils. When viruses or bacteria infect the tonsils, they become red and swollen, and can develop white or yellow spots on the surface. This condition is known as tonsillitis. A persistent or recurring infection of the tonsils is called chronic tonsillitis. While this condition is more common in younger children, it also happens in adults. 

What you can do: Tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics, but if the problem persists, a doctor will recommend a tonsillectomy, a surgery where the tonsils are removed.

Soothe a sore throat:

While it’s important to treat the underlying condition that’s causing your sore throat, there are general measures you can take to relieve a burning, irritated throat:

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water and herbal tea.
  • Gargle with warm salt water to rinse irritants and mucus from your throat.
  • Avoid smoking cigarettes.
  • Suck non-prescription lozenges that contain a mild anaesthetic, such as zinc lozenges. You can also use anaesthetic sprays and mouthwashes.  

Disclaimer: This is a limited list of causes of a sore throat. If you're not getting relief, you should consult your doctor.

Image credit: iStock