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Sore throat: a real pain in the neck!

Posted 12 February 2019 in Men's Health, Womens health

A woman with a sore throat. Source: medicalimages.comAt this time of year, sore throats are just one of many ailments that become rife in the community. Most are caused by simple viral infections and will resolve on their own within a week or two. But it’s also useful to know in which instances you’d need to seek medical advice or treatment.

What can I do to help ease a sore throat?

When you first develop a sore throat, there are several self-care approaches that you can take to ease the symptoms while your body fights off the infection:

  • gargling with warm salt water (not recommended for young children due to the risk of swallowing)

  • resting (including resting your voice!)

  • getting plenty of fluids, but steering clear of hot drinks

  • avoiding rough, sharp, hot or acidic foods

  • sucking ice cubes, sweets or lollies (ice cubes and boiled sweets not recommended for young children as they pose a choking hazard)

  • avoiding smoking, including second-hand smoke (1)

What medication is available to buy to help a sore throat?

There are a number of medicines available on the shop floor and over the counter in pharmacies to help ease a sore throat, including:

  • ibuprofen (which is also an anti-inflammatory)

  • paracetamol (which can also help with any associated fever)

  • medicated or anaesthetic lozenges and anaesthetic sprays and mouthwashes, containing active ingredients such as flurbiprofen and benzydamine (anti-inflammatories), benzocaine (an anaesthetic), and amylmetacresol (a mild antiseptic) (1)

When should I see the GP for a sore throat?

Most sore throats will get better by themselves after a few days. However, if you find you experience any of the following, you’ll need to see your GP:

  • your throat is just as painful after a week of symptoms developing

  • recurrent sore throats

  • fever (feeling hot and shivery with a raised temperature)

  • you have a condition that weakens your immune system, such as diabetes

  • you are receiving treatment that weakens your immune system, such as chemotherapy (1)

A long-lasting and very painful sore throat can be a sign of infection with a type of bacteria called Group A Streptococcus (this condition is commonly known as strep throat). This will need treatment with a course of antibiotics. (1)

A recurrent or long-lasting sore throat can signify other underlying health issues, such as deficiencies and low levels of certain types of blood cells. Your GP can investigate this and ensure you get the appropriate treatment.

A long-lasting sore throat accompanied by hoarseness and coughing with no other symptoms can be indicative of throat cancer. That’s why it’s so important to see your GP if you experience this with no signs of improvement.

In the news: new pharmacy-based sore throat scheme

Over 30 pharmacies in North Wales are offering a new scheme involving the use of a questionnaire and potentially a swab test to determine whether a patient’s sore throat is bacterial or viral in origin. If a bacterial infection is present, then pharmacists who provide the Common Ailments Scheme (which encourages patients to visit a pharmacy before seeing their GP) will be authorised to supply the relevant antibiotics to treat the infection. If this is a successful service, it may eventually be rolled out across the country, giving the public greater and faster access to the sore throat treatment they need. (2)

References

  1. NHS. Sore throat [cited 28 January 2019]. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sore-throat/

  2. North Wales Pioneer. New sore throat test and treat service to be piloted in pharmacies across North Wales [cited 28 January 2019]. Available at: https://www.northwalespioneer.co.uk/news/17386085.new-sore-throat-test-and-treat-service-to-be-piloted-in-pharmacies-across-north-wales/

Author
Gabby Gallagher MPharm

Medically reviewed by
Superintendent pharmacist Margaret Hudson BSc(Hons)MRPharmS 
05/01/19

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