The truth about sore throats – we separate fact from fiction

They can be a pain, but we're here to dispel the myths around them...
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  • The common cold often starts with the dreaded sore throat, and this makes people try lots of different remedies to get rid of it.

    But did you know some of the theories about sore throats aren’t quite as scientific as you thought?

    To help you stay cold-free in 2014, ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, Professor Janet Wilson, helps sort the fact from the fiction.

    1. Feed a cold and starve a fever – is it true?

    FACT Not eating or drinking will generally slow your recovery rate, because supplying the body with drink and food is important for building up your immune system. Try foods like mashed potato or soups which are soft and easy to eat if you have a sore throat.

    But be careful to avoid food or drink that is too hot, because this can make your sore throat worse. Cold foods can be soothing, but milk-based products like ice cream may actually make your cold worse as they can thicken mucus.

    Research has also suggested that starving a fever works because it kickstarts the body into tackling the bacterial infections that cause most fevers. Just make sure you don’t take anything like aspirin or ibuprofen on an empty stomach.

    2. Cold weather causes a sore throat – is it true?

    FICTION 90-95% of all sore throats are caused by viral infections. It’s true that more people catch colds and flu which cause throat pain during cold-weather months. Experts think this is probably because we spend more time indoors near other people who may be ill, which can increase the likelihood of an infection spreading.

    There is also evidence to suggest that changes in temperature can affect the throat. So going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, or even hot weather to a cold air-conditioned building could cause problems.

    3. Gargle with salt to ease a sore throat – is it true?

    FACT It won’t heal the infection, but warm salty water has anti-inflammatory properties and can help soothing your throat. Try one teaspoon of salt per glass of cooled boiled water.

    Credit: Getty Images

    4. Sore throats are impossible to prevent – is it true?

    FICTION Although sore throats are difficult to stop, there are ways to limit the risk.

    Washing your hands regularly is important because it helps destroy viruses that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people. Keeping your house and household items – such as cups, glasses and towels – clean is also critical, especially if someone in your house is poorly.

    5. Lozenges are the only medicine to help a sore throat – is it true?

    FICTION Medicated or non-medicated lozenges can help to relieve the discomfort of a sore throat, but medicated throat sprays work just as well. A throat spray, such as Ultra Chloraseptic Anaesthetic Throat Spray will get straight to the site of the pain.

    6. Smoking can irritate a sore throat – is it true?

    FACT Smoking can cause the throat to become sore, or make an existing sore throat worse. All pollution, along with paints or products with a strong smell, can also have the same effect.

    Cigarette smoke, in particular, irritates the airways and makes infection more likely. It thickens mucus and makes it more difficult to get rid of.

    MORE: Coughs and colds in babies: when do you need to see a doctor?

    7. Children are less likely to suffer from sore throats – is it true?

    FICTION Kids are most at risk of contracting a sore throat because their immune system isn’t as built up against colds and flu infections.

    Painkillers, cold drinks and jelly can be soothing – older children may use a throat spray. The average young child gets about 8 chest or throat infections every year.

    8. You don’t need to see your doctor if you have a sore throat – is it true?

    FACT and FICTION It’s not necessary to visit your GP at the first signs of a sore throat, but if the infection lasts more than 2 weeks and your symptoms are not eased by painkillers, then make an appointment.

    If the glands in you neck are swollen, you have difficulty breathing, noisy breathing, severe difficulty in swallowing or you have a constant fever, you should seek urgent medical attention because these may indicate a more serious condition.