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Managing Throat Pain


Updated June 10, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

There are many causes of throat pain, including colds caused by viruses or strep throat, overuse of the vocal cords, smoking, acid reflux or growths.

About.com's Symptom Checker can help you get to the possible cause of your throat pain, which may involve one of the causes described here. Of course, only a doctor can officially diagnose you.

Throat Pain Caused by the Common Cold

There is only one sure way to tell if your sore throat is caused by a cold virus or by strep throat. A strep test has to be performed at your doctor's office.

Because of serious complications of strep throat, it is important to differentiate it from the common cold. It is uncommon for individuals with strep throat to have cold symptoms such as a runny nose, coughing or sneezing.

Here are some ways to alleviate throat pain caused by the common cold:

  • Drink cold liquids; eat cold foods, such as ice pops.
  • Drink tea with honey and lemon.
  • Avoid acidic foods, such as orange or tomato juice.
  • Suck on menthol or numbing cough drops, such as Sucrets.
  • Use an anesthetic throat spray, such as Chloroseptic.
  • Use cough suppressants, such as Robitussin, to reduce irritation of the throat (not recommended for children under the age of 6).
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Control post nasal drip to reduce irritation of the throat.

Throat Pain Caused By Strep Throat

Strep throat is one of the most common causes of sore throat.

Remember, it can only be diagnosed with proper laboratory testing at your doctor's office. The sample used for the test is obtained by rubbing a long cotton swab against the back of your throat.

Strep throat must be treated with antibiotics to avoid serious strep complications.

Pain caused by strep throat can be controlled by:

  • taking all of your prescribed antibiotic on schedule until the entire bottle is gone -- even if you are feeling better
  • gargling with salt water a few times a day (1/2 tsp salt in 1 cup of water)
  • using over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as directed
  • using an anesthetic throat spray, such as Chloroseptic
  • sucking on cough drops or hard candy
  • drinking cold fluids and eating cold foods
  • drinking tea with honey and lemon
  • eating foods that are easy to chew and swallow
  • avoiding acidic foods, such as orange or tomato juice
  • talking to your physician about the possibility of tonsil removal if you have had 5 to 7 or more strep infections in one year

Throat Pain Caused By Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter -- the muscle between the esophagus and stomach -- fails to close properly. As a result, acidic stomach contents spill into the esophagus, irritating and damaging its tissue. A sore throat caused by acid reflux usually occurs in the morning when you wake up, and it gets better the longer you are awake.

Try the following suggestions to manage throat pain from acid reflux:

  • Sleep with your head propped up.
  • Stop eating within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Try an over-the-counter antacid, such as Tums or Maalox.
  • If symptoms do not resolve, talk to your physician about longer term management of your acid reflux.

Throat Pain Caused By Blisters in the Throat

A condition called herpangina is caused by a virus that produces blisters in the throats of infants and young children infected with it. The condition can be quite painful and is usually accompanied by a high fever. The illness usually goes away on its own in about 7 days.

If your child has been diagnosed, you can help manage his throat pain caused by this illness by:

  • giving him an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • serving him cold milk products, such as ice cream, or pudding, cottage cheese
  • avoiding giving him any fruit juices or foods high in citric acid
If pain is severe, your child's physician may prescribe a topical anesthetic containing benzocaine or xylocaine, but this is seldom necessary.

Throat Pain Caused By Smoking

Smoking can directly cause a sore throat. It can also lead to other diseases that cause sore throat, such as cancer of the mouth, throat and lungs. Oddly, when you stop smoking, your sore throat may become more severe as your lungs begin to expel harmful substances from the ingested tobacco.

Many of the suggestions listed above are helpful in easing the pain of a sore throat caused by smoking. However, if your sore throat does not go away, see a doctor to rule out serious illness.

Throat Pain Caused By Lumps

There are many lymph nodes and glands in and around the neck. It is common for these glands and lymph nodes to swell, become tender, and become noticeable as lumps during a viral or bacterial infection, such as mononucleosis or strep throat.

However, it is rare that a palpable lump (one you can feel) would be unaccompanied by other symptoms of an acute (current) infection. For this reason, you should seek the opinion of a physician.

You may find that an ice pack on the neck may help to relieve the pain and swelling. (Do not place it directly on your skin.) Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may also be helpful.

If you have a lump that causes difficulty swallowing or breathing, seek emergency care.

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