Story by: David Steen Martin; reviewed by Reviewed by Steven Patton, D.O. on March 31, 2023
When a sore throat comes and goes, it’s a sign there might be more going on than a virus, which would go away in about a week.
“If you’ve got a chronic sore throat that has lasted on and off for a couple of weeks, you should see your health care provider to find out the cause of the inflammation,” said Steven Patton, D.O., a family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates primary care.
Usually, the underlying cause is a virus, but there could be other causes, such as an allergy, environmental pollutants, smoking, acid reflux or infected and inflamed tonsils, according to Dr. Patton.
In the winter, waking up with a scratchy throat simply can be the result of dryness in the air. Vocal strain from raising your voice for long periods of time also can cause a recurring sore throat.
In addition to a scratchiness or soreness in the throat itself, chronic pharyngitis could include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, a feeling that something is stuck in your throat and swollen glands in your neck.
Flu season runs through March, and while it’s best to get your shot early, the vaccine still can provide protection later in the season. Influenza vaccine is available across Louisville and Southern Indiana. If you think you have the flu, consult with your health care provider, especially if you are immunocompromised.
If the sore throat is caused by a virus or bacteria, it could be accompanied by fevers and chills, coughing or sneezing, body aches or headaches, and nausea or vomiting.
You should seek medical care right away if your sore throat makes it difficult to breathe, or if it’s accompanied by a rash, earache, pus in the back of your throat, pain in your joints, swelling in your face or neck, or if you are coughing or spitting up blood, according to Dr. Patton.
White or red streaks in the back of the throat or on the tonsils could be a sign of strep throat.
For the run-of-the-mill sore throat, there are some things you can do at home to ease the irritation. These include getting plenty of rest, gargling with salt water and drinking plenty of fluids, such as hot water with honey or noncaffeinated tea. Avoid caffeine or alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
These home remedies will help with the symptoms but will not address the cause of the sore throat. The treatment for a sore throat that comes and goes will depend on what your health care provider determines is the cause.
A bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. For a virus, over-the-counter pain relievers can help. If it’s an allergy, you will need to find what’s causing the reaction and may need an over-the-counter allergy medicine or allergy shots. For dry air, a humidifier could do the trick, according to Dr. Patton.
A chronic sore throat affects millions of people in the United States each year but is usually treatable.
“A sore throat is no fun,” Dr. Patton said. “If you’ve got a sore throat that keeps coming back, you should definitely get it checked out. Once we determine the cause, we can find a treatment that will help.”
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