A sore throat is a painful or irritated feeling at the back of your throat every time you swallow. It’s one of the first and most common symptoms of a common cold. It’s the result of pain and inflammation of the tissue and mucous membranes of your throat and may be aggravated by talking or swallowing.
Viruses, bacteriae, allergies and even dry air can cause a sore. However, it’s most commonly associated with a viral upper respiratory infection, aka the common cold, and can come with a runny nose, sneezing, stuffiness, headache, swollen glands, and a mild fever. While sore throats are most commonly a part of the common cold, they can also be caused by:
- The streptococcus bacteria, frequently causing a severe sore throat
and a diagnosis of strep throat.
- Tonsillitis, which is an infection of the tonsils (found at the back of
your throat) and occurring most frequently in children.
- Mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and
produces a variety of symptoms, including a severe sore throat.
- Allergies, which can irritate your throat through the drainage of mucus down the back of your throat.
- Laryngitis, in which your voice box, called your larynx, is inflamed, causing you to lose your voice. Laryngitis is most frequently associated with a viral upper respiratory tract infection.
What Traditional East Asian Medicine Has to Say about Sore Throat
In Chinese medicine, your throat is considered to be a part of your Lung organ system. That’s because it’s a part of respiration, which encompasses everything from your diaphragm at the bottom of your Lungs to your nose, which filters particles from the air you breathe.
While there are a number of reasons that you may have a sore throat, it’s most commonly a part of an upper respiratory infection known as the common cold. In Chinese medicine, a cold is caused by something called wind, which comes from the outside in the form of a virus or bacteria, affects your upper body, and is very changeable. For example, you may have a runny nose one day, a sore throat the next, and cough the day after that. In most cases, if your wind is cool in nature, which means that it’s not too severe, you aren’t running a significant fever and may only be slightly achy, it will resolve after about a week of mild discomfort.
In some cases, your upper respiratory infection can turn hot, in which case you would be diagnosed as having something called wind and heat. This happens when you begin to run a significant fever, become very achy, and your sore throat becomes severe. At this point, your sore throat, while a part of a wind-heat diagnosis, also would be diagnosed as Lung heat.
Treating this kind of condition in Chinese medicine would involve a strategy of expelling the wind and clearing the heat that’s responsible for your severe symptoms. Treating this kind of an upper respiratory infection, or even flu, at this point, may involve acupuncture plus Chinese herbs. There are acupuncture points that can effectively take the heat out of your sore throat, as well as reduce your fever and support your recovery. In addition, there are a number of herbs that are known for their cooling effect, especially when it comes to calming down a sore throat. These include honeysuckle and forsythia, but they would likely be combined with other herbs to expel wind.
Steps You Can Take at Home
Acupuncture and Traditional East Asian medicine are an effective strategy when it comes to treating your sore throat. It’s good to know, however, that there are also some things that you can do at home to minimise your symptoms and support your recovery. Among them:
- Choose the right foods. Nourishing and moistening foods help support your Lung system during this time. Foods such as cooked apples or pears (especially Asian pears), chicken broth, eggs, rice, and sweet potatoes can be helpful.
- For cooling the heat of a sore throat or fever, choose foods that will cool your body off, such as cucumbers, mung beans or sprouts, melon, Napa cabbage, Bok Choy, and mint tea. To aid your body in accessing the nutrients in your food, make sure you cook your food. Avoid excessive salt or spices whilst you are sick and during your recovery.
- Avoid dairy foods that promote mucus, which will only aggravate your symptoms.
- If it hurts when you swallow, gargling may help. You can try gargling with a weak solution of salt and warm water, lukewarm chamomile tea, or lemon juice diluted in water.
- Keep your throat moist. Medicated lozenges that temporarily numb your throat may help, and lozenges containing phenol may also help keep surface germs at bay until your body can build up some resistance.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid your throat becoming dry and further irritated. Ginger can support your digestion, aiding in your recovery.
- Hydrate your surroundings, too. Use a humidifier or put a pot of water on the stove to boil for ten minutes or so to add a little moisture to the air.
- If you lose your voice, don’t try to talk. Doing so, even at a whisper only further aggravates your voice box and slows the healing process.
Your primary care physician should see any sore throat that
- lasts longer than 48 hours
- is accompanied by tender swollen lymph nodes
- is accompanied by a rash
- is accompanied by problems breathing
- causes severe difficulty swallowing
The bottom line is that you probably have to wait out your sore throat. But acupuncture, Traditional East Asian herbs, the right foods, some common sense and TLC can help keep you comfortable and speed up your recovery.
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