A sore throat is a common symptom myself and other general practitioners or ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgeons see in our patients. This is especially so amongst children who have less resilient immune systems.
A sore throat may vary in severity from a mild discomfort in the throat that is always present, to pain on eating solids or consuming liquids. Occasionally pain may be so severe as to restrict swallowing completely. These symptoms may be accompanied by coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion, fever and swollen lymph nodes.
Most cases of sore throat are caused by viral and bacterial infections such as influenza and streptococcus, and usually heal without complications as long as they are tended to with the right treatment. However, what many don’t realize is that often a sore throat may simply be the first symptom of something more serious.
How effective are traditional remedies?
At the first sign of a sore throat, many parents in Singapore turn to a multitude of home remedies to ease their throats. Many Singaporeans turn to home remedies based on perceptions and recipes passed down from one generation to another. What many may not realize is that such remedies only delay the healing process.
In Singapore, traditional Chinese medicine is a common approach. It is believed that by drinking a range of “cooling” teas – made from ginseng, barley, chrysanthemum and even antelope horn – will help balance the yang or “heatiness” understood to be the cause of sore throats. I have also come across other more esoteric remedies such as drinking Coca-Cola with salt, eating vanilla ice cream and gargling with turmeric to ease the discomfort of a sore throat.
Some of these methods temporarily soothe a sore throat but very often only contain very low concentrations of active principle ingredients to treat the condition. They fail to fight the viruses and bacteria that are the root cause of sore throats. This leaves the immune system vulnerable to further infection which could possibly develop into a serious condition.
I’ve seen many patients, young and old, come in with colds and flus as a result of coming into contact with a sick friend, colleague or family member. Hence, I am a big advocate of treating a sore throat with a medically-proven solution, to prevent the escalation into something bigger and to minimize chances of community acquired illnesses.
What solutions are there for a sore throat?
As viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, it is not necessary to use antibiotics to treat them. This means that parents do not need to make a trip to the doctor’s office every time their child starts describing signs of a sore throat.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as BETADINE® Gargle can be used to prevent further escalation into a more significant infection. The Gargle contains an antiseptic called povidone-iodine which is effective at killing all three kinds of sore throat causing germs – viruses, bacteria and fungi.
Prevention is also better than cure and parents can help forestall infection simply by implementing hygienic practices such as washing hands regularly with antiseptic soap; avoiding sharing utensils with people who are sick; and not touching their eyes, noses or mouths with unwashed hands.
Overall, with the right behavioural changes and habits, parents can easily treat most sore throats and prevent them from becoming larger problems.
This article was written with the help of Dr Jeeve Kanagalingam, an ENT surgeon at Mt Elizabeth Novena Hospital.