Sore Throat Remedies: What Can I Do?
Published: 7 December, 2023 | 6'
The pharynx (from the Greek φάρυγξ (pharynx = throat, pharynx) is a passage that connects the upper respiratory tract to the initial part of the digestive system, which is often affected in its functionality during the colder seasons. Discomfort in the pharynx or throat constitutes approximately 78,265 cases in Spain.
The pharynx or throat is an organ whose main function is the propulsion of food bolus during swallowing and the protection of the airways. Its condition can cause discomfort in the person, potentially compromising the airway and making swallowing difficult.
Throat discomfort is a condition characterized by a sensation of irritation, burning, itching, and discomfort in the frontal portion of the neck, which may increase or worsen during swallowing. It frequently affects the well-being of the throat in childhood and young adults, especially during the winter months due to increased close contact within the population, and in spring due to greater exposure to certain environmental factors.
Throat discomfort can present with difficulties in swallowing, cough, hoarseness, difficulty breathing or speaking, earache, dry mouth, a strained voice, among others.
What is the reason for the appearance of throat discomfort?
Throat discomfort can be associated with infectious agents such as viruses, as well as other external factors (irritation due to pollen).
The differential diagnosis should be evaluated by a healthcare professional, who will perform the necessary tests and recommend the most appropriate treatment depending on the medical history and age of the individual.
Viral causes account for 80% of all cases of pharyngeal discomfort in both children and adults. However, a study conducted by Mistik, 2015 found that out of a sample of 624 patients, 42.9% of throat discomfort had no infectious cause, while 44.3% were attributed to a viral agent.
The table below shows the most common viral agents present in cases of pharyngeal discomfort.
· Coxsackie virus
· Respiratory syncytial virus
· Parainfluenza virus
· Influenza viruses A and B
Bacterial agents can also be responsible for pharyngeal discomfort, with the most frequently isolated bacteria being β-hemolytic Streptococcus group A (5-36%), found in 15-30% of children and 10% of adults.
The table below shows the most common bacterial agents present in cases of pharyngeal discomfort.
· Streptococcus pyogenes
· Haemophilus influenzae
· Chlamydophila pneumoniae
· Mycoplasma pneumoniae
· Arcanobacterium haemolyticum
As previously mentioned, throat discomfort is not always caused by an infectious agent. The various external factors responsible can be seen in the table below.
· Allergic reactions to pollen, mold, animal fur, among others.
· Sudden changes in temperature.
· Tobacco, alcohol, excessive coffee consumption, chemicals, etc.
· Incorrect use of voice technique.
· Vocal strain.
· Vocal cord issues.
Regarding incorrect use of voice technique, it is common for professionals who have a higher incidence of non-infectious throat discomfort to be those who require high vocal performance, such as teachers, singers, radio announcers, among others.
Signs of throat discomfort
Pharyngeal discomfort can present with a series of manifestations that vary in intensity and frequency depending on age group, geographic area, exposure to pollutants, professional activities, predisposition to this condition, and seasonality. Affected individuals may experience all, some, or none of these signs.
Discomfort when swallowing
Throat involvement can commonly cause uncomfortable swallowing in the frontal part of the neck, resulting in a burning sensation when food or saliva passes through the affected area, in this case, the pharynx.
Redness and irritation of the throat
Generally, both infectious causes and external factors related to pharyngeal discomfort can lead to redness and irritation in the affected area. As a result, a dry cough may occur, preceded by clearing the throat, itching, or tickling, creating a sensation of discomfort.
Throat discomfort is often associated with fever when the causes are infectious agents.
Sores or ulcers consist of small white or yellow lesions that appear on the surface of mucous membranes in the throat and can cause difficulties and discomfort when swallowing and speaking. They are generally caused by exposure to certain irritants, as well as sensitivity to certain spicy or acidic foods. Imbalances in nutrients (vitamins and minerals), as well as hormonal changes, may be responsible for the appearance of these discomforts.
How long can throat discomfort last?
The characteristic signs of throat discomfort usually reach their peak in 3-5 days, resolving within 10 days.4 According to NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence- UK), the duration of discomfort can last around 1 week, with improvements occurring during this timeframe without the use of antibiotics. 12
How to relieve a sore throat?
A high percentage of throat discomfort is usually self-limiting and does not require additional measures for resolution. However, there are options that can help with the well-being of the mouth and throat during seasonal changes.
Home remedies for throat discomfort
Relief from pharyngeal discomfort can be achieved through the use of homemade ingredients, as well as hygienic measures, which allow for the resolution of discomfort. Some of them are:
- Gargling with a saline solution: Rinse for 1 minute, several times a day, with a 1% saline solution.
- Consuming plenty of liquids at room temperature: Constant hydration of the mucous membrane allows for the thinning of secretions.
- Sleeping with an extra pillow: Elevating the head at night with an extra pillow allows for drainage of the nasal passages.
- Using humidifiers: Humidifying the air facilitates breathing.
- Consuming hot milk with honey: It has a soothing effect on irritated mucous membranes.
- Sucking on lozenges or candies: It is recommended that they contain menthol and propolis as ingredients.
Nutrition and dietary supplements for a healthy throat
A varied and balanced diet, as well as a healthy lifestyle, are determining factors for the well-being of the pharynx during seasonal changes. Some of the foods that can promote throat health are citrus fruits with a high content of vitamin C such as lemon, orange, or kiwi, nuts, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, and those rich in minerals (nuts, salmon, and shellfish).
The diet can be supplemented with synergistic supplements that help relieve signs and discomfort in the throat. Some of these ingredients are:
- Echinacea purpurea: Its main active constituents are polyphenols. Echinacea has traditionally been used by Native Americans to relieve skin conditions.13 EFSA (ON HOLD 2366, 3950, 4032, 3342) acknowledges that Echinacea purpurea can contribute to maintaining normal immune function and highlights its usefulness for the normal functioning of the respiratory system.
- Erísimo (Sisymbrium officinale Scop, known as singer’s herb): It is an herbaceous plant from the Mediterranean area, traditionally used for its beneficial properties for the larynx and throat. In fact, many singers consume it before a performance, hence its name.14 Erísimo, according to EFSA ON HOLD (2342), contributes to the normal functioning of the respiratory system.
- Propolis: Its phenolic compounds, terpenes, and flavonoids (such as galangin) provide it with its antioxidant capacity, which is useful in seasonal respiratory tract signs.
- Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): Characterized by the presence of vitamin C and anthocyanins15, it can contribute to the body’s natural defenses (EFSA ON HOLD 2134).
- Honey: Components such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and phenolic acids contribute to the soothing properties of honey for throat discomfort.16 Additionally, the World Health Organization considers honey to be an economical and popular emollient.
- Mentha piperita: The menthol content, which is a bioactive component of this species, provides a refreshing sensation in the throat and fresh breath.
Final tips for throat discomfort
Taking care of nutrition, maintaining a balanced diet, and leading a healthy lifestyle, as well as following proper hygiene practices are important steps that promote the well-being of the immune system. Seasonal changes can affect respiratory well-being, which is why, along with a good diet, dietary supplements can help maintain a healthy immune system.
Content written and reviewed by the specialists of the Scientific Information area at MARNYS. This article is informative and does not replace the consultation with a specialist.