Sore throat is an inflammatory condition that affects the mucosa, or lining, of the throat causing a sense of burning, difficulty swallowing and pain. While usually mild in severity and short in duration, in many cases it may not come as an isolated ailment, but rather accompanied by a viral or bacterial infection, an allergic reaction or a common cold syndrome: in other words, it can be a symptom of another disorder requiring medical attention, particularly when the throat pain persists for more than 7 days.
The autumn and winter season are especially conducive to the onset of sore throat because of frequent temperature fluctuations and exposure to the cold. The cold season is also characterised by peak concentrations of infective agents, with bacteria and viruses finding in the mouth and throat the easiest access to the body. This is why the first signs of infection develop in the throat.
A sore throat starts with a sense of itch and scratchiness in the throat; if not promptly treated, these are often followed by dryness, burning and difficulty swallowing, so that even eating and drinking may become painful. Upon observation, the throat appears red and the tonsils are swollen. The voice may be altered, becoming low and hoarse. If the sore throat is a symptom of influenza or of an allergic reaction, it may be accompanied by fever, swelling of the neck glands, cough and skin rashes; in the case of a bacterial infection, the tonsils may be covered with white patches.
Causes and treatments
The most common causes of a sore throat are associated with environmental conditions: cold and humidity, smog and air pollution, inhaling vapours or dusts, as well as cigarette smoke may irritate the mucosa of the throat. Particularly dry air, typical of air conditioned or heated spaces, can also be responsible for the onset of throat pain. A sore throat brought about by these factors is usually mild and transient.
Viruses and bacteria are the main factors responsible for infections, of which sore throat is a characteristic symptom: the transmission occurs by contact with an infected subject and the spread of saliva droplets loaded with infectious particles. In these cases, the throat pain is more severe and long-lasting.
If the pain is intense and is not caused by a bacterial infection, it may be appropriate to use a symptomatic treatment with anti-inflammatory medications, topical or otherwise, to reduce the inflammation and pain. If, on the other hand, the pain is very intense and/or persists for several days, it is necessary to seek medical attention; antibiotic treatment is only indicated once a bacterial infection has been ascertained by a physician.
Inflammations of the mouth
Diffuse inflammation of the oral cavity is generally defined with the term stomatitis. Stomatitis is an inflammatory process that affects the soft parts of the mouth, i.e. the mucosa of the gums, the inside of the cheeks, the palate, the inner surface of the lips and the tongue. The condition can be acute or chronic, and can be limited to specific areas of the mouth: if it affects the gums, for example, it causes gengivitis; if the tongue is involved, it causes glossitis.
The most frequent symptoms are halitosis, burning in the mouth, swelling, redness, bleeding, ulcerous lesions or aphthae, pain (particularly when chewing) and, in the more serious forms, swollen lymph nodes, fever and difficulty eating, swallowing or speaking.
Causes and treatments
If not treated, the build-up of bacterial plaque on the teeth can provoke an inflammatory reaction that develops initially in the adjacent gums. The microorganisms in the plaque reside in the mouth and are generally harmless; however, poor oral hygiene, a diet rich in sugar, a decline in the immune response and systemic diseases can alter the mouth environment and make these microorganisms harmful.
The presence of pathogenic germs may also be induced by the onset of bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Other factors that can cause the development of inflammations of the oral cavity are: mechanical trauma, resulting from inadequate or unstable orthodontic braces or implant; irritating substances, like tobacco and spices; alcohol consumption; vitamin or iron deficiencies; allergic reactions; anxiety or stress. Lastly, tooth decay, poisonings, hormonal or metabolic dysfunctions, and prolonged treatments with certain medications can contribute to the worsening of the inflammatory process.
The type of treatment depends on the causes and the severity of the inflammation. Antiseptic products are generally used to disinfect the oral cavity and stop the condition from spreading. In case of pain, it may be appropriate to use analgesics and topical anti-inflammatory medications to relieve both the inflammation and the pain. Whatever the form and the cause, regular and accurate oral hygiene is essential to stop the condition from worsening and to prevent other inflammatory processes. Acute forms require medical attention: the physician will prescribe the most appropriate treatment.
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