Throat infections are caused by a virus, fungus, or bacteria. They can be mildly irritating or very painful, depending on their severity. In general, you do not need to seek medical attention for a throat infection, and it should clear up on its own in a few days, but it is always a good idea to monitor your symptoms.
A throat infection often accompanies the flu or a cold, though they can also result from other factors, such as overusing the voice, allergies, sleeping with your mouth open, or burns from swallowing scalding food. These causes may have different treatments than a viral or bacterial cause, so determining the true origin can help identify the best treatment and speed recovery.
Throat infections are generally caused by the same viral infections that cause the common cold and the flu. Other causes are tonsillitis, postnasal drip, and upper respiratory infections. If the pain begins suddenly and is accompanied by a sudden fever, chills, a loss of appetite, white patches on the throat, or swollen lymph nodes, the infection could be strep throat, and the person should seek medical attention.
Pain that is worsened by swallowing is the most common sign of a throat infection. Milder irritation at the beginning is common, but after a day or two, the pain tends to worsen as the infection spreads, and other symptoms present themselves. Ear pain and swollen glands may follow.
Though most throat infections will pass in a few days with basic home care, they can be symptomatic of a more serious condition. Anyone who experiences throat pain in addition to difficulty swallowing or breathing, severely swollen glands in the neck, bloody saliva, or high fever should speak to a doctor. Also seek medical attention if throat pain lasts more than two weeks.
Many simple home remedies can ease the pain of a sore throat. Perhaps most importantly, a person with a throat infection should rest their voice and get plenty of sleep. Cold, smooth foods can soothe the pain without scratching the throat, and herbal teas or warm water with lemon and honey offer similar benefits, as well as easing any congestion that might accompany the infection. Gargling with warm water mixed with a bit of salt can ease pain.
Viral throat infections are likely to resolve on their own without worsening or serious complications. Bacterial infections such as strep throat can have more serious consequences if antibiotics are not administered promptly. Potential conditions include toxic shock syndrome, pneumonia, and meningitis. Recurrent tonsillitis, which also causes a sore throat, can lead to the removal of the tonsils, most commonly in children.
Though the symptoms are often mild, viral infections causing sore throats are quite contagious, and it is best to remain at home until the symptoms have passed, to avoid infecting others. The common cold is usually most contagious a few days before the symptoms develop until about two weeks later. A person with the flu becomes infectious when their symptoms begin and remains so for up to a week.
Strep throat is a bacterial infection that can cause severe complications if left untreated. It is most common in young children but can affect people of any age. Strep throat should be treated with a course of antibiotics as soon as possible. If a sore throat comes on suddenly and is accompanied by a high fever and white spots visible inside the mouth, it is important to seek medical attention.>
Mono is usually caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and affects at least one in four young people of high school or college age. The symptoms set on slowly, and in addition to a sore throat, include a fever, extreme fatigue, and a rash. These symptoms usually last two to four weeks, though they can continue for months. Doctors can usually diagnose this condition based on symptoms. Rest and drinking lots of fluids is the most common treatment.
In the flu and cold season, everyone can minimize the spread of infectious particles by practicing good hygiene and avoiding touching their faces. Eating well and other healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercise and getting enough sleep, will ensure the immune system remains in good shape so it can fend off infections.
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