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How to relieve sore throat pain

Updated: Oct 7, 2023



Sore throat pain can be very annoying. It hurts whenever you drink, eat or even speak. As a result, it decreases your appetite and quality of rest. Let’s see what can be done to alleviate the pain.


First, we need to understand the pathophysiology, that is, what causes the disease to happen - sore throat.


When the throat is under attack by virus (Covid, influenza), bacteria (Streptococcus), fungus (only in immunocompromised individuals), or allergens (pollen, dust), the superficial mucosal membrane and the underlying nerves will be damaged by these intruders. In defense, the body will summon white blood cells to fight off these intruders and to repair the damaged areas. To achieve this, the body will increase blood flow to the affected areas. Hence, this causes the throat to swell up and heat up, which is inflammation. This process of inflammation, together with the virus/bacteria/fungus causes damage to the nerve, which is the reason for the annoying sore throat pain.


Majority of sore throat cases are caused by viruses. As annoying as it can be, sore throat is never a life threatening disease on its own. With enough rest, the sore throat will usually go away in 5 to 14 days. However, if the sore throat comes very quick with intense pain, high fever, or even with symptoms of shortness of breath, then it can potentially be a serious cause of bacterial infection. In this case, immediate medical attention is needed.


If it’s only a mild sore throat or a physician has already diagnosed no need to take antibiotics, one can let the sore throat heal on its own. The followings are the options can be used to alleviate the pain.


Throat lozenges

  • The presence of a throat lozenge in the oral cavity stimulate the secretion of more saliva, which can help to moisten the affected area

  • Throat lozenges with Benzocaine (anesthetic) can also numb the pain, but usually has short duration of action of about ½ hour to 1 hour

  • Throat lozenges with mild antiseptics (amylmetacreso, dichlorobenzyl alcohol, benzydamine, cetylpyridinium chloride, povidone). Please note these are mild antiseptics that only work on the superficial layer of the mucosal membrane, and cannot be used to replace antibiotics in severe cases.

Mouthwash

  • Mouthwash with the above mild antiseptics can definitely be used. The duration of action may even be shorter than throat lozenges, but the process of gargling can be helpful in removing the virus/bacterial in between the teeth.

  • Try to avoid mouthwash with alcohol. Yes, alcohol can kill microorganisms bit it can also irritate the thin mucosal lining in the oral cavity, making it harder for the affected area to heal, or even cause further damage


Oral remedies

  • Oral analgesics Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) can be used to alleviate the pain, the duration action usually lasts 4 to 6 hours after each dose. Ibuprofen also has anti-inflammatory properties that Acetaminophen does not. But Ibuprofen should be avoided in pregnant mothers, people with stomach problems and kidney disease.

  • Cough syrups, or home made remedies such as honey lemon tea may have a slight soothing effect. Please note different cough syrups may have ingredients not suitable for everybody. Don’t hesitate to consult a pharmacist for advice before purchasing.

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