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Sore throats are one of the most common (and painful) complaints heard in doctors offices across the United States. Although most people mistake this as a medical problem in and of itself, sore throats are actually a symptom of more severe infections. The medical definition of a sore throat is a pain, scratchiness, or irritation of the throat that often worsens when swallowing.

A sore throat is the first symptom of Pharyngitis, which is an inflammation of the pharynx, or the throat. This can be caused by allergies, but is more likely to be an initial symptom of a larger medical problem.

Causes of Sore Throat

Sore throats are common in smokers and people with severe allergies. The chemicals in cigarettes tear the sensitive tissue on the inside of the throat, causing soreness, irritation, and a myriad of other respiratory issues. Different environments can trigger different types of allergies that lead to sore throatsfor example, arid areas cause dryness in the throat, while valleys collect pollen and other irritants that will irritate the throat glands. Schools present the ideal environment for bacterial infections to spread. This is why children and teenagers are also more likely to develop sore throats, as they still have underdeveloped immune systems.

Risk Factors Associated with Sore Throats

Viral infections are the first medical issues doctors look for in patients complaining of a sore throat. The most common are cold and flu. Patients with one of these conditions will show other symptoms, such a fever, swelling of neck glands, and coughing or sneezing. In teenagers and younger adults, a sore throat can also be a symptom of Mononucleosis, commonly referred to as mono. Although the symptoms are nearly identical, mono is more severe than the common cold or flu, making it even more important for patients to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Preventing a Sore Throat

Dehydration is one of the main causes of a sore throat. It is important to drink enough water to prevent dry mouth, which spreads quickly to the throat. As dry throats are more susceptible to infection, its wise to follow the general prevention steps used to fight off germs, such as washing your hands regularly, avoiding others showing cold or flu symptoms, and using caution in sharing straws or eating utensils.

Basic Sore Throat Treatments

Sore throats are most commonly treated with over the counter products, such as soothing sprays and lozenges, but if the problem persists for more than a couple of days, you should seek medical attention. Doctors will typically prescribe antibiotics that will eliminate sore throats and related symptoms in a few days. However, should testing show more serious infections, such as tonsillitis or pharynx cancer, more intensive treatments will be required.

Remember, no matter how mild a sore throat might seem, it is important to see your doctor or medical professional before the problem worsens. Sore throats are much easier to treat in the early stages before they have developed into