There’s nothing worse than waking up with a scratchy feeling in the back of your throat. That bit of rasp in your breathing and little pain when you swallow are all precursors that make you hang your head. After all, everyone knows what that means – you’re starting to get sick. Before you head to your medicine cabinet and start grabbing medication, it’s important to get an idea of what you’re facing when you have a sore throat.
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Like most illnesses that you get, a sore throat usually has one of two causes: either it’s a viral infection or it’s one caused by bacteria. So, here are three of the most common illnesses for both bacterial and viral infections that give you a sore throat.
1. Common Cold
By far, the most common cause of a sore throat is the common cold. On average, there are over 1 billion colds every year across the United States, with adults suffering between 2 to 4 colds per year and kids sometimes having as many as 6 to 12. These annoying illnesses are accompanied by sneezing, runny noses, and congestion. On average, colds last about a week, and because they are viral, there’s nothing to be done but suffer through them, treating the symptoms.
Another common viral sore throat is laryngitis. This is your archetypical illness where someone loses their voice. That’s because the virus that causes laryngitis attacks the larynx and the vocal cords. They become inflamed and cause your voice to become deeper, raspier, or sometimes they make it so you can’t speak above a whisper. The best course of action is to rest your voice and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid things that will irritate your throat like smoking or being around people who are smoking. Laryngitis usually takes about two weeks to subside.
The third viral infection that can cause a sore throat is mononucleosis, mono, or the kissing disease. Of course, you can get mononucleosis from more than just a smooch. It’s passed through saliva, so you can catch it from sharing a glass, or sharing a fork with someone who’s sick. The difficult part of preventing this disease is the long incubation period; there’s between four to six weeks from the time you’re exposed and when you start to show symptoms. When you start to show symptoms, you may show a sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. There is no vaccine for mononucleosis, so the best way to treat it is to not get it. That means you shouldn’t share your utensils or drink from other’s people’s water bottles or cups. The good news is that once you’re exposed, your body develops antibodies, so you won’t ever get it again.
The most common way a bacterial infection will cause a sore throat is strep throat.
A Bacterial Sore Throat
Strep throat affects the throat and the tonsils and causes severe pain. This is a relatively rare illness but has some serious complications if left untreated. Some of the side effects, if strep throat is left on its own, include kidney damage and rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and damage to your heart valves. The symptoms of strep throat include painful swallowing, swollen tonsils, and small red spots at the back of the mouth. You may also suffer from fever, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches. Strep throat is treatable with antibiotics, so if you think you or your kids have strep throat, you should speak to your doctor. It’s especially important that you get this diagnosed because if it is left untreated, the streptococcus bacteria can spread quickly, often with life-threatening complications. Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppets, died due to bacterial pneumonia complications brought on after a strep throat infection went untreated.
Another bacterial cause of your sore throat can be a general bacterial infection of the tissues of the throat. This can be an infection and inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis), the uvula (uvulitis), or the tonsils or adenoids (tonsillitis, adenoiditis). These infections range from mild to very severe. For example, epiglottitis can be very dangerous. The epiglottis is the barrier that closes when you eat to prevent food or liquid from going into your lungs. If this barrier becomes infected, it can swell up and block off the trachea, making it hard to breathe. Epiglottitis can be caused by a Type B flu virus or come about as a secondary infection because of strep throat.
In general, if you have a sore throat, you should pay attention. This is your body telling you that something is wrong. If your sore throat is accompanied by a fever or body aches and pains, you should see your doctor, so they can test for strep throat. If you find that you have trouble swallowing or breathing, or your lymph nodes become painfully swollen, you should see your doctor immediately.
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