The Best Ways to Manage Different Types of Throat Pain

Colds and acid reflux are among the many causes of throat pain

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There are many causes of throat pain, including colds caused by viruses or strep throat, overuse of the vocal cords, smoking, acid reflux or growths. With these tips, learn how to manage throat pain, no matter the culprit.

Throat Pain Caused by the Common Cold

While symptoms differ slightly (strep doesn't usually cause sneezing or a runny nose) there is only one sure way to tell if your sore throat is caused by a cold virus or by strep throat.

A strep test has to be performed at your doctor's office.

Because of serious complications of strep throat, and because strep throat needs to be treated with an antibiotic, it is important to differentiate it from the common cold. 

Once you're sure you're not suffering from strep, here are some ways to alleviate throat pain caused by the common cold:

  • Drink cold liquids; eat cold foods, such as ice pops.
  • Drink tea with honey and lemon.
  • Avoid acidic foods, such as orange or tomato juice.
  • Suck on menthol or numbing cough drops, such as Sucrets.
  • Use an anesthetic throat spray, such as Chloroseptic.
  • Use cough suppressants, such as Robitussin, to reduce irritation of the throat (not recommended for children under the age of 6).
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Control post-nasal drip to reduce irritation of the throat.

Throat Pain Caused By Strep Throat

Strep throat is one of the most common causes of sore throat.

 Remember, it can only be diagnosed with proper laboratory testing at your doctor's office. The sample used for the test is obtained by rubbing a long cotton swab against the back of your throat.

Pain caused by strep throat can be controlled by taking all of your prescribed antibiotic on schedule until the entire bottle is gone (even if you are feeling better).

You should begin to feel better about 24 hours after starting an appropriate antibiotic. Also try gargling with salt water a few times a day (1/2 tsp salt in 1 cup of water). 

Most of the suggestions listed above for controlling a sore throat caused by the common cold are also helpful for alleviating a sore throat caused by strep.

Talk to your physician about the possibility of tonsil removal if you have had five to seven or more strep infections in one year.

Throat Pain Caused By Acid Reflux

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle between the esophagus and stomach) fails to close properly. As a result, acidic stomach contents spill into the esophagus, irritating and damaging its tissue.

A sore throat caused by acid reflux usually occurs in the morning when you wake up, and it gets better the longer you are awake.

Manage throat pain from acid reflux by sleeping with your head propped up, stopping eating within a few hours of bedtime or using an over-the-counter antacid, such as Tums or Maalox.

If symptoms do not resolve, talk to your physician about longer term management of your acid reflux.

Throat Pain Caused By Blisters 

A condition called herpangina is caused by a virus that produces blisters in the throats of infants and young children infected with it.

The condition can be quite painful and is usually accompanied by a high fever. The illness usually goes away on its own in about seven days.

If your child has been diagnosed with herpangina you can help manage his throat pain by giving him an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen; serving him cold milk products, such as ice cream, pudding or cottage cheese; and avoiding giving him any fruit juices or foods high in citric acid.

If pain is severe, your child's physician may prescribe a topical anesthetic containing benzocaine or xylocaine, but this is seldom necessary.

Throat Pain Caused By Smoking

Smoking can directly cause a sore throat. It can also lead to other diseases that cause a sore throat, such as cancer of the mouth, throat and lungs. Oddly, when you stop smoking, your sore throat may become more severe as your lungs begin to expel harmful substances from the ingested tobacco.

Many of the suggestions listed above, including using over-the-counter pain relievers and cough drops, are helpful in easing the pain of a sore throat caused by smoking. However, if your sore throat does not go away, see a doctor to rule out serious illness.

Throat Pain Caused By Lumps

There are many lymph nodes and glands in and around the neck. It is common for these glands and lymph nodes to swell, become tender or noticeable as lumps during a viral or bacterial infection, such as mononucleosis or strep throat.

However, it is rare that a palpable lump (one you can feel) would be unaccompanied by other symptoms of an acute (current) infection. For this reason, you should seek the opinion of a physician.

You may find that an ice pack on the neck may help to relieve the pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers may also be helpful.

If you have a lump that causes difficulty swallowing or breathing, seek emergency care.

Throat Pain Caused By Overusing Your Voice

Misusing your voice can lead to hoarseness and voice loss, which is also referred to as laryngitis. This is a common ailment among individuals who use their voice as part of their profession, such as singers, actors or teachers. It can also be caused by viral infections or exposure to dust, chemicals or other irritants.

The best remedy for laryngitis is resting your voice by not talking or talking very softly. In the case of chronic laryngitis, it is best to consult your doctor to find the underlying cause of this illness.

Throat Pain Caused By Surgery

If you are given general anesthesia, an endotracheal tube is inserted through the throat and into the lungs to help you breathe. This can irritate the airway and back of the throat, causing a sore throat for about 24 hours after surgery.

Cough drops or anesthetic throat sprays can be helpful. One study cited licorice root as a means to soothe sore throat related to surgery.

Tonsillectomy is a very common throat pain-causing surgery. After this procedure, your surgeon will probably prescribe you a narcotic pain medication. It is also helpful to suck on ice pops and consume cold fluids and foods, such as chilled juice and ice cream.

It is common to have pain and hoarseness after a thyroidectomy as well. The initial sore throat and hoarseness should subside in a couple of days. Again, your surgeon should prescribe you a narcotic pain medication. The severity and length of pain varies widely between individuals.

Throat Pain Caused By Seasonal Allergies

It is not uncommon to get a sore throat when you are allergic to something outside, such as pollen or grass. The sore throat can be due to irritation caused by the allergen (the thing you are allergic to) or other symptoms, like cough and post nasal drip.

In this case, antihistamines such as Benadryl or Claritin are most beneficial. You may wish to consult an allergist in order to find the cause of the problem, as avoidance is key to successful treatment.

Throat Pain Caused By Cancer

While very few cases of sore throat are caused by cancer, it is important to note that sore throat and hoarseness, as well as difficulty breathing or swallowing, can be signs of laryngeal cancer. Consult with a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect that your throat pain might be due to cancer.


American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. Fact Sheet: Common Problems That Can Affect Your Voice. Accessed: September 2, 2009 

MedlinePlus. Herpangina. Accessed: November 17, 2009 

MedlinePlus. Sore Throat. Accessed: November 17, 2009 

National Cancer Institute. What You Need To Know About Cancer of the Larynx. Accessed: July 7, 2009 

The College of Family Physicians of Canada. Sore Throat - Easing the Pain of a Sore Throat. Accessed: November 22, 2009