In the last several decades, an entire industry has evolved around the common problem of sore throats.

As with hoarseness, a sore throat usually arises because of a temporary condition—such as a cold or allergy or overstressing the throat and larynx by yelling and screaming—but it’s important to run through a process of elimination to make sure it’s not a sign of a more serious illness.

Ask yourself the following questions to help determine the cause of your sore throat:

1. Has the pollution in my area worsened recently, or have I been spending more time in an urban area?

2. Have I recently been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia?

3. Do I suffer from frequent sinus infections?

4. Is my mouth frequently dry?

5. Does my throat feel sore all day or just in the morning?

6. Do I have a fever as well as a sore throat?

Next, look into a mirror and open your mouth using a spoon to hold your tongue down. Now take a flashlight and look at your throat.

1. Is it fire engine red?

2. Are there white patches that appear to be filled with pus?

There are many causes of sore throat. If you’ve recently moved to an area where the pollution in the air is denser or are spending more time outside during the middle of the day, when pollution is usually at its worst, you may find yourself with a chronic sore throat. A hiatal hernia—a bulge in the lower esophagus that causes the stomach to press into the chest cavity—frequently causes stomach acids to back up into the esophagus, and you feel a burning in the back of your throat. Even if you don’t have a hiatal hernia, if you eat and drink late at night and lie completely horizontal when sleeping, the digestive juices can back up into your esophagus, resulting in a morning-only sore throat.

Sinus infections can also cause a recurrent sore throat. If your sore throat is caused by a dry mouth, it may be that you tend to breathe through your mouth. People who snore often have this problem. And if your throat is very red and sore and you also have a temperature, you might have strep throat. However, if your red, sore throat also has white patches of pus, it’s probably not strep but a viral infection. In a young adult, this infection is usually mononucleosis; in an older adult, it’s a simple viral infection.


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