A throat infection is discomfort, pain, or scratchiness in the throat due to any infectious condition. A sore throat often makes it painful to swallow in cases of throat infection. Sore throats are common. Most of the time soreness is worse in the morning and improves as the day progresses.
Like colds, the vast majority of sore throats are caused by viral infections. This means most sore throats will NOT respond to antibiotics. Many people have a mild sore throat at the beginning of every cold. When the nose or sinuses become infected, drainage can run down the back of the throat and irritate it, especially at night. Or, the throat itself can be infected.
Strep throat is an inflamed (red and swollen) throat caused by infection with bacteria called Streptococci. It is diagnosed with a throat culture or a rapid strep test at the doctor’s office. With treatment the fever and much of the sore throat are usually gone within 24 hours. It is important to treat strep throat to prevent some rare but serious complications such as rheumatic fever (a disease that affects the heart) or glomerulonephritis (a disease that affects the kidneys).
A sore throat is less likely to be strep throat if it is a minor part of a typical cold (with runny nose, stuffy ears, cough, and similar symptoms). Strep can’t be accurately diagnosed by looking at the throat alone. It requires a laboratory test.
Sometimes breathing through the mouth will cause a sore throat in the absence of any infection. During the months of dry winter air, some people will wake up with a sore throat most mornings. This usually disappears after having something to drink.
In addition, allergies (allergic rhinitis) can cause a sore throat. Usually, treatment will be delayed until the culture results are known. Doctors will often begin treatment of a sore throat immediately if there is a family history of rheumatic fever, if the patient has scarlet fever, or if rheumatic fever is commonly occurring in the community at the time. Otherwise, antibiotics should NOT be given without a positive strep test (culture or rapid strep test).
When antibiotics are started, it is important to complete the entire course as directed, even after symptoms improve. Children can return to school or day care 24 hours after antibiotics are started. Gargle warm saltwater (1/4 teaspoon of salt per glass) or an antacid solution. You can suck on hard candy (butterscotch seems to be a soothing flavor). Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) for throat pain or fever over 102°F (39°C). Swollen tonsils can make some foods hard to swallow. Eat a diet of soft foods for a few days. You are no longer contagious after you have taken the antibiotic for 24 hours. Therefore, you can return to school after one day if you are feeling better and the fever is gone.
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