Your throat hurts. But what else is going on?

A painful throat could mean dozens of things are wrong with your body, so before you run to the doctor to get antibiotics or painkillers, you should be close to certain that you know what’s wrong. Here are a few things that your throat could be telling you when it starts to hurt.

Acid Reflux

Often, people who experience sore throats often are suffering from GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a form of severe and chronic acid reflux. While acid reflux is often described as heartburn, some people don’t feel the burning pain in their chest but rather in their throats. This means that destructive stomach acids are traveling far up your esophagus, burning the delicate tissues of this organ all the way up.

The problem is that your esophagus is too short, or else that the muscle between your esophagus and stomach isn’t strong enough to close tightly. Thus, when you eat foods that stimulate the production of stomach acid, some of it splashes up into your throat, which agitates the tissues and causes pain.

Unfortunately, if you allow this pain to go on untreated, itcan advance into a serious condition called Barrett’s esophagus, where the lining of your esophagus begins to resemble the lining of your intestines. This increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer, which is one of the deadliest varieties.

Fortunately, it is easy to treat GERD through diet and medication. Talk to your doctor if you experience chest and/or throat pain,especially after eating certain foods like salty and sugary treats, as well as difficulty swallowing and a chronic cough.

Inflamed Vocal Cords

If you do a lot of talking, shouting, singing or vocalizing in any way, you might be suffering from inflamed vocal cords. Your voice box isa muscle, like your biceps or your glutes, and they can become sore and stiff from overuse. By pushing your vocal cords further after they are inflamed, you risk more serious issues, like vocal cord paresis or paralysis.   

You should recover from this injury as you would after a hard day at the gym: rest and ice. By giving your vocal cords a break, you should be able to eliminate the pain and recover the true tone of your voice within a few days.

Viral Infection

One of the most common causes of a sore throat, a viral infection is what causes the common cold and the flu. Often, the throat becomes agitated and painful due to symptoms of the infection as opposed to the infection itself. For instance, congestion of the sinuses forces you to breathe through your mouth, forcing dry air across the delicate tissues of the throat.Typically, when an infection is raging the body’s tissues become even more sensitive and react aggressively — thus, you get a sore throat.

There is little a doctor can do to help a viral infection except make the body more comfortable. Plenty of rest, food and water will help your immune system fight off the infection fast, eliminating your sore throat.In the meantime, you can gargle with saltwater or suck on throat lozenges for relief.

Bacterial Infection

It is important to weigh a sore throat vs. strep throat because strep is not caused by a virus but rather a bacteria. Bacteria infections aren’t as easy for the immune system to fight off; in fact, few people can successfully recover from a bacterial infection without medical assistance. Signs that you have a bacterial infection agitating your throat include:

  • White patches on the tonsils. Ask someone to peer into your throat; if they see white spots, you have strep.
  • Red spots on the roof of the mouth. The same person should look for these, which also signal strep.
  • No runny nose or congestion. Bacteria don’t often trigger a full immune response, soyou likely won’t have most of the symptoms of a cold.
  • Rash. Scarlet Fever is caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat. A blotchy, red rash around the arms and waist can show a serious bacterial infection.

You absolutely need to see a doctor if you have the symptoms of strep. They will prescribe antibiotics, which your body needs to fight off the infection. They might also suggest removing your tonsils if you succumb to strep too often.