During the months of September through February when the temperatures are particularly cold in most parts of the world, colds and the flu run rampant. Although you can catch a cold or flu at any time throughout the year, it is more prevalent when the temperature seems to dip. Unfortunately, there has been no discovery on why this phenomenon is but scientists have some theories. Researches postulate that during the colder seasons people stay indoors more often which allows for closer contact between people, which increases the likelihood of transmission of the cold or flu. Additionally, colder air also means drier air. When the air is dry the mucus membranes in the body also dry, which is the primary means of how the body eliminates virus particles. Also virus and bacteria can harden and live within the respiratory tract much like a spore would when the temperature is cold. Furthermore during winter month’s people are exposed to little if no sun, which helps in our production of vitamin D. With a decreased production of vitamin D our body’s immune system is more susceptible to virus and bacteria that is in the air and on exposed surfaces.
The initial sign of the cold or flu is a sore throat. Again this is highly due to the dry air eliminating hydration from the mucus membranes such as the mouth, and throat. Although, when a sore throat appears most people immediately think that a cold or flu are the culprit, however many other things can cause a sore throat and it may be prudent to eliminate some of these other causes before treating any symptoms. Acid reflux, sinus drainage, breathing through your mouth, allergies, air pollution, tobacco smoke, alcohol, spicy food, muscle strain, yelling, HIV infection and tumors can cause symptoms of a sore throat. If you can reduce the cause of your sore throat down to a cold or flu them you either have a bacteria or viral infection. Predominantly, most sore throats turn out to be a virus. However, its that 1 in 5 chance that it could be a bacterial infection that you need to be cautious of because bacterial infections such as Strep can turn into other more serious conditions such as Rheumatoid Fever.
Determining whether you have a virus or bacterial infection without having to go to the doctor can be quite simple. By looking inside your mouth and at the back of the throat you can determine the specific characteristics that are causing your sore throat. When you look in your mouth if your throat is red and inflamed and you have some phlegm, which can be yellow or green then you have a virus, cold or flu. On the other hand if you look and you also see some red inflammation in addition to white, lumpy spots on the tonsils and throat, this is indicative of a bacterial infection such as Strep.
Some of the most common viral infections include the common cold, flu, Mononucleosis (mono), measles, chickenpox, and croup, If you have a cold virus a sore throat will on be painful for 1-2 days and then should subside. Other symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, cough and fever. Antibiotics cannot cure or treat a viral infection. Unfortunately there is no way to kill a viral infection; you have to let it run its course.
The most common bacterial infections that cause sore throats are Strep throat (Streptococcus), whooping cough, and Diphtheria. A bacterial infection can cause a sore throat with pain that persists for 3-7 days. The tonsils and lymph nodes in the neck will usually be swollen and aching. A fever higher than 101 degrees is usually caused by inflammation and the body trying to fight off the infection. If you have a bacterial infection you should see a doctor immediately to prescribe antibiotics such as penicillin. A prescription should be taken for 7-10 days to eliminate the bacteria from the body.
In either cause, viral or bacteria, there are ways to ease the symptoms of a sore throat. The best thing to do at the first sign of a sore throat is to gargle with warm salt water. This kills germs that are present in the mouth and reduces any inflammation. If the sore throat persists, you don’t want your throat to remain dry because this will lead to pain and irritation. Using a humidifier will keep moisture in the air, which will continually re-hydrate your throat and mucus membranes. Throat sprays are a great way to keep you throat wet. Look for ingredients such as glycerin, phenol or menthol because they act as a numbing agent, which will reduce, pain that you may be experiencing from a sore throat. Slippery elm and honey are two great natural products that will coat the lining of the throat and soothe your symptoms. Ibuprofen is a better over the counter pain reliever because it reduces pain and swelling. Eating popsicles and drinking warm tea will keep your throat moist and reduce pain when swallowing.
Sarah Labdar, “Sore Throat is the First Sign of Cold & Flu Season”, Everyday Health