Winter is coming, and that means more than just holidays and cold weather. It also means the arrival of colds, coughs, and sore throats. If you want to avoid suffering with a sore throat all season, here are the most common causes of sore throats, and how you can help prevent them.
Why Are Sore Throats So Common in Winter?
Most sore throats come from one of two basic causes: infectious sources, and non-infectious sources.
Infectious sources include:
- Common colds or viruses
- Strep throat, tonsillitis, and flu
- Mononucleosis among college and high school students
- Chicken pox, measles, and croup among children.
Why are these conditions more common in the winter? It's simple: because people are closed up indoors instead of outside. Contagious viral germs spread more quickly and easily indoors, and schools tend to be particularly germ-friendly. People also tend not to be diligent about hand-washing, and that only helps spread contagion.
Non-infectious sources of sore throat include:
- Chronic allergies due to dust mites
- Nasal drainage, which causes irritation of mucous membranes
- Indoor heating, which makes the air drier
- Breathing through the mouth (dries out mucous membranes)
- Sore throat due to muscle or voice strain
- Acid reflux or heartburn
Chronic Sore Throat Problems
Identifying a chronic sore throat can be tricky. In most cases, a sore throat from an infectious source will last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. As you have no doubt experienced, a sore throat from a common cold usually gives way to congestion within a day or two.
On the other hand, a sore throat from an ongoing condition such as dry air or allergies can last all season long. In such cases, there may not be much recourse except to treat the symptoms.
Sore Throat Prevention and Treatment
Just as with the common cold, it may be impossible to entirely avoid getting a sore throat this winter season. However, there are steps you can take to make a sore throat less likely and make yourself more comfortable should you get one:
- Add humidity. Installing a humidifier in your home or office will moisten the air and reduce irritation of mucous membranes.
- Practice good hand-washing. Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap (not just a quick rinse with cold water). Make liberal use of Purell or other alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Hands off your face. Your hands come in contact with the most germs during the day. Try not to touch your face, eyes, or the corners of your mouth any more than you need to.
- Stay hydrated. A tall glass of water is one of the least expensive things you can do to keep your mucous membranes moist and prevent a sore throat. Plus, it’s just good for your health!
If you have questions about a sore throat that's lasted much longer than expected, get in touch with Virginia ENT to schedule an appointment and talk to one of our physicians.