Getting that scratchy feeling: Sore throats

by Dr. Christopher Singh

We all are familiar with the dry, scratchy feeling and painful swallowing that is associated with a sore throat.

In most cases, a sore throat is not a serious condition however, in rare instances it may be an indication of a more serious underlying health condition.

The medical term for a sore throat is pharyngitis, which simply means inflammation of the pharynx or throat.

Most of the time, sore throats occur as one of the symptoms of a viral infection such as a cold or flu.

As a result, it is very common to experience sore throats in conjunction with other symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, cough, fever and body aches. In many cases, a sore throat will be the first indication that you’re getting sick.

In addition to viruses, bacterial infections can also cause sore throats.

The strep bacteria is most frequently the cause of bacterial sore throats. Both viruses and bacteria enter your body through your mouth or nose by breathing in particles after someone has sneezed or coughed or though hand contact with germs from things such as doorknobs or telephones.

Other less common causes of sore throats include allergies, dry air and pollution/irritants. The latter two causes directly apply to truck drivers due to the fact that the air in the cab of your truck tends to become very dry during the summer months when you are using your air conditioning.

Thus, it is advisable for you to open your windows every few hours to let in some fresh air. Truck drivers are also exposed to diesel fumes and other chemicals on a daily basis. It is very important to take the proper precautions when coming in contact with these chemicals. Finally, smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke can irritate the lining of your throat as well.

As mentioned earlier, most sore throats are not harmful or dangerous and usually go away without treatment within a week or so. However, in rare cases, a persistent and severe sore throat may indicate a more serious underlying condition. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following:

• A severe sore throat that lasts more that one week;

• Severe difficulty swallowing or breathing;

• Blood in saliva;

• High fever;

• Skin rash.

The diagnosis of the cause of your sore throat will most often be made through a physical exam and throat culture. Your doctor will rub a sterile swab over the back of your throat and tonsils and then send it to a lab for processing.

Once your physician has determined the cause of your sore throat, he or she will treat it accordingly. Unfortunately, there is no known pharmaceutical drug that can treat sore throats caused by viral infection.

Your best course of action is to increase your fluid intake and get extra sleep to help your body fight the infection.

Try to drink fluids like water and juice instead of pop or other caffeinated drinks as they will dehydrate you more.

If your doctor determines that the cause of your sore throat is a bacterial infection, he or she will most likely prescribe a course of antibiotics.

It is important that you take the entire course of antibiotics even if you feel well as this will ensure that all of the bacteria have been eliminated.

There are a few home remedies that may be effective in easing your symptoms. Gargling with salt water is very popular as it helps to sooth the pain and clear out mucus. Another common remedy is drinking warm water with honey and lemon.

This too will help to temporarily ease your pain. One commonly overlooked remedy is resting your voice as it helps to reduce the irritation of the throat.

Although it is not possible to prevent sore throats altogether, you can greatly reduce your chances by following a few basic guidelines.

First of all, hand washing is the simplest and most effective prevention technique.

You should wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom as well as after being in crowded public places like truck stops.

If water and soap are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a great alternative.

In addition to washing your hands, avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, foods and towels. It is also a good idea to clean telephones, keyboards and remotes on a regular basis.

Keep in mind these simple tips next time you feel that tickle in the back of your throat. Until next month, drive safely!

-Dr. Chris Singh, B. Kin., D. C., runs Trans-Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.

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