A painful throat — whether burning or scratching – is a very common symptom with a large number of potential causes, from infection to physical injury. No matter the cause, it’s always uncomfortable, but identifying the source can you help find the best way to treat it.
A sore throat may come with other signs of illness, such as fever, coughing, runny nose, aching in the head or body, and fatigue; if you have these symptoms, you may have contracted a viral infection such as the flu or the common cold – this is the most common cause of throat irritation. Mononucleosis (usually shortened to “mono”) is a viral infection that also includes swollen neck glands and fever as symptoms, and people often feel very weak and tired for weeks after contracting it. A scratchy or itchy throat that comes with sneezing or itchy eyes is often a sign of allergies. A very painful sore throat on its own — unaccompanied by cold and flu symptoms – may be strep throat, a common bacterial infection. Finally, it may be caused by an injury (such as swallowing the jagged end of a chip the wrong way) or an irritant (such as smoke, or stomach acid from acid-reflux disease).
Identifying the accompanying symptoms may help you get a better sense of what is wrong and how to treat it. Viral infections such as the flu or cold can usually be treated at home, with rest, plenty of fluids, and some help from over the counter medications. If you suspect mono or strep throat, you’ll need treatment by a doctor; strep throat will be given a prescription for antibiotics. Allergies can be treated with over the counter allergy medication and by limiting your exposure to allergens, but you may consult an allergist if they’re severe. Gargling with warm salt water is a time-honored home treatment for soothing a sore throat that works regardless of the cause.
If your sore throat lasts more than a week, interferes with breathing, or makes it so difficult to swallow that eating is impossible or drooling occurs, see a doctor. A painful throat that comes with a rash or high fever (above 101 degrees) or blood in saliva is also cause to seek medical treatment.