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Self Care for a Sore Throat

From your home to the doctor's office

Herbal teaSometimes a sore throat can be the first sign of a cold coming on. Other times it can be one of the main symptoms you experience – like those times when you feel as if you're swallowing a scouring pad. In most cases you can take care of your sore throat at home. One of the best treatments is to slow down, take care of yourself and soothe your throat.

"People tend to look for a quick fix when they are feeling ill, and hope the doctor will be able to prescribe a medication to get them feeling better more quickly," says Jennifer S. Earvolino, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Rush.

"Most sore throats, however, are caused by viruses. In those cases, antibiotics are not necessary and can cause unwanted side effects. We do not want to treat someone with antibiotics unless we have confirmed the infection is bacterial, because antibiotics won't work on a virus and could cause other problems later."

The overuse of antibiotics in our society has contributed to the emergence of a number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Earvolino explains. "This is why we see so many headlines about diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA. Too many people are taking antibiotics when they don't need to," she says.

Some ideas for soothing your throat:

  • Gargle with salt water
  • Take throat lozenges, following directions provided by the manufacturer
  • Use throat sprays that have analgesic qualities, following directions provided by the manufacturer

You may also consider:

  • Warm liquids, which can be soothing
    • Drink warm liquids like herbal teas
    • Eat soup
  • Cold foods can be soothing, too
    • Dissolve ice chips in your mouth
    • Eat popsicles
    • Eat cold desserts, like gelatin, pudding or ice cream

If your sore throat continues to be painful, some symptoms you should watch for are:

  • White pus-like patches on tonsils
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Fever
  • Sore throat without a cough

If you have a number of these symptoms and "strep" throat (caused by group A streptococcus bacteria) appears to be the cause, your doctor can provide a rapid test that looks for the presence of the bacteria. The test can be done in the office, and you can have the results within about 5 minutes. 

If the presence of the Group A streptococcus bacteria is confirmed, you doctor will prescribe a treatment for you. 

"Most sore throats get better with time, and you should be on the mend in about a week," says Earvolino. "If you don't start to see an improvement after a week, or if your symptoms worsen, you should contact your doctor."

January 2008