Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment of a Sore Throat at Night
A sore throat at night is a common problem that many people suffer from. Sometimes, the problem fades away by the next day, prompting the individual to shrug it off. If the sore throat becomes regular, however, it's important to pursue a diagnosis.
Although this might seem like a small problem in the scheme of things, and it may be a common bacterial or viral infection, there are some less common causes that might be causing the condition. If you're currently suffering from this nightly, here are some of the things you should know about.
The most obvious symptom is pain in the throat which worsens when swallowing. The muscles along the throat may also become weaker due to the soreness, making it harder for an individual to swallow.
The tonsils may also be affected, leading to redness, soreness, and white patches on the surface. In most cases, the throat feels dry, scratchy, and uncomfortable.
There are several possible reasons for a sore throat at nighttime, ranging from the harmless to the serious. Some possible causes are below.
Of course, these are just few of them. Note that other more serious complications could be the reason for the problem, some of which include tumors and HIV.
This should not be a reason to panic however, as most cases of sore throat are curable.
Several types of bacteria can cause a sore throat, the most common of which is strep (which causes sore, red throat with white patches, difficulty swallowing, headache, chills, loss of appetite, and swollen lymph nodes in the neck.)
Both kids and adults will find themselves in great danger if they have a strep infection. Inflammation can result and spread rapidly to the throat, lymph tissues, tonsils, and other adjacent structures. This leads to the swelling and obstruction of the airway as well as the entry of the bacteria into the bloodstream, causing infections in the kidneys, heart valves, and other parts of the body.
There's also diphtheria (which causes sore, hoarse throat, low fever, a thick, grayish membrane covering the throat and tonsils, swollen neck glands, difficult or rapid breathing, congestion, chills, and fever). Caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae, diphtheria is commonly spread through the air or by direct contact between people and of contaminated objects. Some individuals may unknowingly carry the infectious bacteria and spread it to others.
Whooping cough (aka pertussis) is quite common in children and easily contracted. It causes runny nose, sneezing, harsh, wheezing cough, and slight fever. When an individual who is affected with this condition sneezes or coughs, he or she sprays germ-laden droplets into the air. The droplets could then be breathed in by people nearby.
Tonsillitis (sore throat, fever, red/swollen tonsils, nasal congestion, and swollen lymph nodes), or uvulitis (sore throat and swelling and redness of the uvula) could also be causes. Tonsillitis can result from different types of bacteria and viruses while uvulitis can be caused by an allergic reaction, an injury behind the throat, or an infection.
Fortunately, these bacterial infections of the throat can be easily treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated, they might lead to complications.
Sore throat can be triggered by environmental allergens and accompanied by other symptoms such as sneezing, swelling of body parts, rashes, and itchiness.
Some of the most common things people are allergic to include pet dander, mold, dust, and pollen.
Pet dander. This refers to the tiny flecks of skin that are commonly shed by animals with feathers or fur such as dogs, cats, birds, and rodents. These microscopic bits of skin have the potential of triggering allergic reactions in people.
Mold. Molds become a problem when their spores land on damp or wet spots indoors, where they start growing and produce allergens and irritants. Sensitive individuals who touch or inhale the mold spores will experience delayed or immediate allergic reactions.
Dust. Dust refers to atmospheric particles from soil, volcanic eruptions, weather-lifted dust, pollution, and other sources. Individuals who are allergic to dust frequently have reactions the most when they are inside the home. Their symptoms usually get worse during or right after they sweep, vacuum, and dust. This is because house cleaning can stir up particles of dust, which make them easier to breathe in.
Pollen. The fine yellowish powder transported from one plant to another by the wind, birds, insects, and other animals is pollen. Spreading of pollen is an important component of the fertilization of plants but it also means trouble for those who suffer from seasonal allergy.
Many viral infections can trigger sore throat, including:
- Laryngitis. Laryngitis refers to larynx inflammation that usually results in loss of voice or huskiness as well as painful cough and harsh breathing.
- Mononucleosis. The Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, is the reason behind a cluster of symptoms known as mononucleosis. Mononucleosis is the “kissing disease” that you can get at any age, although teenagers are the ones who typically get it. It is spread via the saliva.
- Mumps. A contagious disease that involves the swelling of the salivary glands, it usually begins with headache, tiredness, fever, loss of appetite, and muscle aches for a couple of days.
- Herpangina. This refers to an illness common to children that is characterized by tiny ulcers that look like blisters behind the throat and on the palate. A sore throat, sudden fever, neck pain, and headache may result from the infection.
- Chickenpox. Chickenpox causes a rash of inflamed, itchy blisters as well as a mild fever. It mainly affects children and is caused by a virus referred to as herpes zoster.
- Measles. Measles involves the infection of the mucous membranes, which then spreads to other parts of the body. A person can get infected by the measles virus through the air and through direct contact.
- Influenza (flu). The flu attacks the throat, nose, and lungs (respiratory system) and usually resolves on its own. But influenza can lead to complications that can be deadly when not promptly treated.
- Croup. Croup causes the larynx and trachea (upper airways) to swell and become irritated, which results in an affected person having hoarseness or a "barky" cough.
- Common cold. A virus in the nose is the cause of the common cold, although it also involves the ears, sinuses, and bronchial tubes. The common cold is milder compared to the flu.
Additional symptoms for these conditions vary. Viral infections are actually a more common cause of sore throat than bacterial infections and do not respond to antibiotics.
If you have been talking or yelling for the better part of the day, don't be surprised to feel a sore throat that night.
Like all muscles, the throat can grow tired and ache when given too much exercise. In cases like this, the soreness will fade away in time.
Dry weather is also a known cause of sore throat. During winter, many buildings are heated which means a person could be inhaling recycled air, eliminating any dampness that keeps the throat flexible.
GERD (acid reflux)
GERD is when stomach acid flows back from the stomach up the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest area (heartburn). The upward path of acid can also cause pain to the throat, causing soreness and swelling.
Other symptoms include a sour taste in the mouth and burping. If this is a chronic condition, the esophagus may become damaged (a condition known as erosive esophagitis).
In rare cases, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can cause a sore throat. Your doctor will be able to do a simple test.
Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause of the problem. Individuals who suffer from the condition occasionally may only need the simplest treatment methods to make the problem go away. Others may need more powerful medication or medical intervention to alleviate the problem.
Before you rush to the doctor, try some of the following at-home treatments:
- Warm Beverage. Sore throat caused by muscle strain can be treated with hot tea and honey. The warmth of the drink helps relax the muscles and the honey coats the throat, alleviating the pain. Drinking liquid also helps with dehydration.
- Gargle. Gargle once an hour with a teaspoon (5 g) of salt dissolved in a cup (240 mL) of warm water to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Make sure the water is warm, not hot. Gargle no more than three times a day; otherwise your healthy soft tissue may become dry, which will make things worse.
- Lozenges. If the soreness only happens occasionally, over-the-counter medicine might help do the trick. Purchase some lozenges and use them as instructed in the label. They are considered a safe and effective way to numb the pain. Your sore throat at night will benefit from the soothing effect (due to increase production of saliva) of sucking on lozenges. Do not let young children try this remedy though, as it poses a risk of choking.
- Decongestant. Sore throat stemming from a cold can be soothed with a decongestant, which helps lessen the mucus and therefore alleviating the postnatal drip.
- Humidifier. A sore throat from dry conditions is easily handled by a humidifier. If you don't have access to one, try sitting in a steamy bathroom. You can pour boiling water into a bowl and lean over it; drape a towel over your head to create a steam chamber. This will help clear up the passageways, alleviating pain along the throat.
- Ice cream or sugar-free popsicles. The cold temperature of these treats can reduce the inflammation and irritation associated with a sore throat at night.
- Lemon water. You can combine a teaspoon of lemon juice with a cup of water to make lemon water. Drink this beverage to create an acidic, inhospitable environment for bacteria and viruses in your throat as well as shrink inflamed throat tissue.
- Garlic. You can count on garlic’s bacteria-killing property to treat a sore throat at night. The allicin in garlic fights the germs responsible for the irritation and pain associated with a sore throat. Try placing one garlic clove in each of your cheeks, then suck on them like you would on cough drops. Do this once a day.
- Fragrances. Relief from a sore throat at night is just a whiff away when you inhale fragrant essential oils such as eucalyptus, thyme, sandalwood, and lavender.
- Basil leaves. You might consider boiling in water a handful of basil leaves. After straining, gargle with or slowly sip the water.
- Chicken soup. Try drinking hot chicken soup to make eating and swallowing with a sore throat less difficult.
- Water and hot sauce. Hot sauce contains capsicum that has the ability to reduce pain as well as fight inflammation. You can mix a half teaspoon of hot sauce with one cup of water (hot). Gargle the mixture; repeat after fifteen minutes.
- Vinegar and sage. Ease your swollen nasal passages as well as soothe your sore throat with a mixture of water (1/8 cup), sage (1 teaspoon), vinegar (3/8 cup), alum (1/2 teaspoon), and (brown sugar (1/4 cup).
- Indian spices. Add ground fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dry ginger and black peppercorn to 2 cups of water and boil for about five to six minutes. Strain and drink right away.
- Turmeric water. Make use of turmeric’s powerful antioxidant properties to soothe a sore throat by mixing turmeric (1/2 teaspoon) with salt (1/2 teaspoon) and hot water (1 cup).
- Wheatgrass juice. Try quickly rinsing your sore throat with wheatgrass juice, a chlorophyll-rich beverage that helps prevent the growth of bacteria. Simply hold for five minutes in the mouth (you will benefit from healthier gums as well).
- Clove tea. Prepare a soothing clove tea by adding one to three teaspoons of ground or powdered cloves to water. Gargle the mixture to let its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties treat a sore throat at night.
- Tomato juice. You will get temporary sore throat relief if you gargle with a mixture of hot water (1/2 cup) and tomato juice (1/2 cup) with hot pepper sauce (10 drops). Sore throat gets healed faster with this juice due to lycopene’s antioxidant properties.
- Green tea. Green tea has a natural bacteria-fighting ability that will help in treating a sore throat at night. Try making a little extra green tea when brewing a cup and gargle with it.
- Baking soda. Aside from gargling with salt to soothe a sore throat, you can also gargle with salt water mixed with baking soda. This mixture will prevent the growth of fungi and yeast as well as kill bacteria you may be harboring in your throat. Try mixing warm water (1 cup), baking soda (1/4 teaspoon), and salt (1/8 teaspoon) and swish gently in your mouth. Repeat the process as needed every three hours.
- Apple cider vinegar. A bad cough may have left behind a sore throat, and for that, you can turn to apple cider vinegar for relief. Apple cider vinegar forms an acidic coating on your throat, making it inhospitable to germs. You can mix one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with one teaspoon of salt and warm water (one glass). Gargle with the mixture three to four times a day. If you prefer something gentler, you can also mix one-fourth cup of apple cider vinegar with one-fourth cup of honey; take on tablespoon of the mixture every four hours.
- Raspberry tea. Simply pour boiling water (one cup) over dried tea leaves (two teaspoons), then allow to steep for about ten minutes. Strain before allowing the raspberry tea to cool for a while. You can gargle with it once it is warm.
- Cayenne pepper. Hot peppers like cayenne contain capsaicin, a compound known to provide temporary pain relief. Pour one cup of boiling water in a cup, then add one-eighth to one-half teaspoon of cayenne pepper and one teaspoon of honey. Stir well to combine. Let the mixture stand for a bit; once warm, you can drink as needed throughout the day. Stir the mixture frequently to prevent the cayenne pepper from settling.
- Acid reflux management. If you suffer from frequent heartburn, you risk having a chronic sore throat. This is a result of the acid from your stomach backing up into your esophagus as it reaches your throat. You can treat acid reflux at home by simply taking steps to lose weight; eat smaller meals; stop smoking; avoid eating about 2 to 3 hours before sleeping; avoid taking carbonated beverages, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and peppermint as well as acidic, fatty, and spicy foods; and elevate the head of your bed about 6 inches above the foot.
- Combat dry air. Sore throat at night can result from breathing dry air, especially in winter. To combat this, try turning down the heat during nighttime and opening a bedroom window a little. You can also use a vaporizer to prevent dry air as well as drink plenty of alcohol-free and caffeine-free fluids to hydrate your respiratory tract.
- Avoid irritating the throat. You can irritate your throat by simply inhaling tobacco smoke and other sources of air pollution. The same goes for shouting, attempting to converse in a noisy setting, and other forms of straining your voice. If you suffer from a sore throat at night along with hoarseness, make sure to rest your vocal cords as well as take plenty of liquids. Keep from clearing your throat frequently or whispering.
- OTC meds. Acetaminophen and other OTC pain medications are a good source of relief from a sore throat at night. But keep in mind that giving aspirin to children should be avoided.
Of course, the doctor can help, too:
- Diagnosis. Your doctor can make a diagnosis by performing a physical exam that involves looking at your throat, nasal passages, and ears with the aid of a lighted instrument; checking for swollen lymph nodes by gently feeling your neck; and listening to your breathing with the aid of a stethoscope.
- Testing. You doctor can run any tests necessary to pinpoint the cause of your sore throat. If it lasts longer than three days, see your doctor. He or she may perform a throat swab, in which the back of your throat will be rubbed with a sterile swab. The doctor will then have the sample of secretions checked in the laboratory. If the test gives a positive result, it means you likely have a bacterial throat infection. A negative result, on the other hand, means you suffer from a viral infection.
- Medication. If it's caused by a bacterial infection, the doctor can easily confirm this and prescribe antibiotics. Note that the doctor's instructions regarding medication dosage and frequency should be followed strictly. Many people stop taking the medication when they feel better even if it is against doctor's orders. In truth however, stopping treatment immediately can only worsen the problem.
- Note that the best treatment for sore throat depends on the cause of the problem. For example, if it is being triggered by GERD, then medical professionals will need to treat the GERD and the sore throat will disappear along with it.
You may also try alternative medicine, which is usually in the form of sprays, teas, and lozenges, to treat a sore throat at night. Just keep in mind that you should just depend on these alternative treatments alone, especially since evidence about what is effective is limited. You also have to take into account the possibility that you will require antibiotics for an infection caused by bacteria. It is best to consult your doctor prior to using any kind of herbal remedy, especially if you are taking prescription medications for a certain health condition or are pregnant.
- Slippery elm. Slippery elm has long been used in the treatment of sore throat because of the mucus-like substance it contains. You will find that mixing the mucus-like substance with water created a slick gel that you can use to coat and soothe your throat. Try boiling some water over powdered slippery elm bark. Stir well before drinking. Slippery elm lozenges are also available to help relieve a sore throat.
- Goldenseal. Try making a germ-killing goldenseal gargle by mixing 1 ½ teaspoons of goldenseal tincture with eight ounces of water. It soothes the inflamed tissue in your throat while fighting bacteria and viruses.
- Echinacea. Echinacea is effective as a virus killer and sore throat pain reliever. Simply add Echinacea tincture (2 teaspoons) to a cup of water. Gargle the mixture thrice every day to ease throat pain as well as provide a boost to your immune system’s infection-fighting function.
- Myrrh. Several drops of myrrh tincture mixed with one cup of water are what you need for a speedy treatment of sore throat at night. This antiseptic mixture is highly astringent, which is great for fighting inflammation. You can gargle the myrrh mixture for up to 6 times a day.
- Licorice root. Get that much-needed relief from a sore throat at night with the help of some licorice root tea. Licorice root is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties that enable it to decrease swelling and irritation as well as soothe the throat’s mucous membranes. You may brew your own licorice root tea by placing the following in a mixing bowl: one cup of dry licorice root (chopped), two tablespoons of cloves (whole), one-half cup of cinnamon chips, and one-half cup of chamomile flowers. Make sure everything is blended, then take three tablespoons of this mixture and mix with 2 ½ cups of water (cold). Heat on medium and allow to boil before reducing heat to low. Let simmer for about ten minutes before straining into a mug.
- Marshmallow root. The marshmallow root is similar to the slippery elm since it also contains a mucus-like substance that can coat and soothe your sore throat. You can make marshmallow root tea by adding dried marshmallow root to boiling water. Sip this mixture twice or thrice a day to relieve throat pain.
- Peppermint. Aside from giving you fresh breath, peppermint is also effective in relieving sore throat. The menthol it contains has the ability to thin mucus as well as calm coughs and sore throats. Peppermint has also been found to help heal with its antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Honeysuckle. Honeysuckle is another effective herbal remedy you can use to treat a sore throat at night. Its natural antibacterial properties enable it to ease throat pain, coughs, and flu symptoms as well as prevent germs from coming back. Simply combine fresh honeysuckle leaves and flowers (two cups) with water (one quart). Heat the mixture and allow to simmer for about ten minutes before straining. Add some honey, sip, and enjoy.
Of course, prevention is still better than a slew of treatments. Your best bet would be to keep sore throat-causing germs at bay and to always observe proper hygiene. Try the following tips:
- Make sure to thoroughly and frequently wash your hands before eating, after getting out of the toilet, and after coughing or sneezing. Doing so is effective in preventing a number of sore throat infections. You might also consider reducing your contact with individuals suffering from a sore throat, although you should keep in mind that they are contagious even long before their symptoms show, making this strategy less effective.
- It is best to avoid sharing your food, utensils, and drinking glasses.
- Throw away a tissue after coughing or sneezing into it. You can also sneeze or cough into your elbow to prevent spreading the infection..
- Instead of washing your hands with water and soap, try using hand sanitizers that are alcohol-based.
- Keep yourself from breathing dry air at night and getting a sore throat by using a vaporizer (cool mist).
- Do not let your mouth come in contact with public drinking fountains or phones.
- Clean your TV remotes, telephones, and computer keyboards with a cleanser/sanitizer. Do the same with your hotel room's phones and remotes when traveling.
- Keep from getting too close to individuals who are sick.
- Avoid bringing cleaning products, cigarette smoke, and other throat irritants into your home.
- Try keeping your pet out of a family member's bedroom if he or she suffers from asthma or other allergies. Never allow the pet to rest on upholstery and other furniture as well as carpets. Make sure to frequently clean the house to prevent dust from accumulating.
- If you are sensitive to mold, make sure to protect yourself with a dust mask whenever you are doing yard work. If you know you will be around potential mold sources, it would be best to take your allergy medications beforehand. Once you get home, rinse our nose using a saline solution and take a shower to remove mold spores.
- To protect yourself from mold allergies as well as a sore throat in the night, see to it that any leaks and spills in the home are quickly cleaned up. This will help in preventing any mold spores from growing. You might also consider opening windows or using exhaust fans to bring down the moisture and humidity levels in your bathrooms as well as other rooms in the house. Clean your refrigerator drip pans and garbage cans on a regular basis. Make sure that your home's foundation is protected from flowing drainage and clear your gutters constantly.
- Manage your dust allergy (and protect yourself from sore throats) by removing your bedroom's carpets. Cover your pillows and mattresses with cases that are made of “mite-proof” materials. Make sure to use hot water in frequently washing your bed linens. Remember to have a media filter (high-efficiency) installed in your air conditioning unit and furnace.
- Managing your pollen allergy is also another way of protecting yourself from potential sore throats at night. You can keep an allergic reaction from occurring by lining the edge of your nostrils with an allergen barrier gel, balm, or nasal spray; you might also give petroleum jelly a try. When driving, close your car windows and make sure to set the car's air intake on the re-circulate mode. It also helps to use a car that has an efficient pollen filter or air filter installed in it.
When Should I Go to the Doctor?
- If it isn't better after 3 days.
- If you've had a fever of over 100.4 F or 38.0 C for more than 2 days.
- If you have heart disease, diabetes, asthma, HIV, or are pregnant.
- For adults, any rashes, joint pain, earache, and blood in the saliva should be checked out right away. Check for lumps along the neck area as well. A temperature higher than 103 F or 39.4 C requires the attention of a doctor.
- For children, look for any signs of drooling and inability to swallow. If the child suffers from compromised breathing, go to the doctor immediately.