Coughs and sore throats are common health complaints, and many people don’t consider these to be very serious concerns. Indeed, a cough or a sore throat could be a minor problem, more annoying than dangerous. In some cases, however, a cough or sore throat could be indicative of a much bigger health issue.

Knowing how to soothe the discomfort of a sore throat and cough will relieve your pain faster, but it is also important to know when you need to seek medical attention for these conditions. Doctors at our urgent care sore throat and cough treatment centers in Harrisburg and Carlisle can help. We can rule out any serious causes of your cough or sore throat, and we have tools available to ease your pain, sometimes better than the medicines you can get without a prescription.

Symptoms and Causes of Sore Throats

A sore throat is a pretty general health complaint that can indicate any number of problems. Sometimes a sore throat presents without any other symptoms. This does not necessarily mean there is not an underlying infection, though. The sore throat could be the first symptom to show, or it could be the most severe or obvious symptom.

When a sore throat is your only symptom, it is easy to explain it away. You might assume it is just something you ate that irritated or tickled your throat a little. Or, you may attribute a slight pain in your throat to some random allergen. Coughing and clearing your throat could give you the short-term comfort you need to ignore the problem.

Your throat has some important functions in digestion and breathing, however, and for optimum health, it should work easily without discomfort. Identifying a sore throat as more than just an annoyance is the first step in getting to the root cause and getting permanent relief.

Symptoms of a Sore Throat

Common signs and symptoms of a sore throat include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A scratchy feeling in the throat
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Muted or raspy voice
  • Swollen glands in neck or jaw
  • Pain that increases on swallowing or talking
  • White patches on your tonsils

A sore throat does not always present as the only symptom. It can get lost, in fact, in the other discomforts you are feeling can make the complete diagnosis of your ailment more difficult. Because of it’s location in the body and its involvement in breathing and digestion, a sore throat is often accompanied by these other symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Cough

The causes of a sore throat can vary greatly, from dryness in the air to a tumor. Whether the sore throat is the only symptom or it is accompanied by other symptoms is one clue as to what its cause really is. Here is a list of possible causes for a sore throat:

  • Allergies — When you have an allergic reaction to certain airborne substances, a sore throat could become one of your symptoms. Mold, pollen, dust and even pet dander can get into the air. When you breathe them in, if you are allergic, you may become congested. The presence of these allergens compounded by the accompanying postnasal drip can irritate your throat and cause it to become enflamed.
  • Environmental conditions — The environment outside of your body or inside it can cause a sore throat. Contaminants like smoke or other chemical pollutants in the air, for instance, can irritate your throat, and the longer you are exposed to them, the worse your symptoms can become. Using tobacco, alcohol and spicy foods can effect the environment within your body. These items in particular may give you a sore throat.
  • Over use — Your throat is controlled by a series of muscles working together so you can swallow, talk, whisper and sing. When those muscles get strained, you may experience a sore throat. Unusual activities that use throat muscles are often the cause. If you sing every day, for example, singing probably won’t give you a sore throat. Attending a loud concert, however, and cheering or singing along with the crowd much louder and longer than you normally would, will strain the muscles in your throat.
  • Moisture imbalance — Your throat, as well as the inside of your mouth, is lined with a mucus membrane that is meant to remain moist. Air that is artificially heated or cooled can be very dry, and when you breathe that air, it affects the moisture balance in your throat. Breathing through your mouth, as a result of nasal congestion, can dry your throat out even faster. The dryness will cause irritation and a sore throat.
  • Acid reflux — Since your throat is part of your digestive system, it is subject to digestive juices which are acidic. When you eat something that triggers a prolonged digestive response, the amount of acid in your throat increases. Another condition that increases exposure to acid in your throat is indigestion. When the food you’ve swallowed mixes with your digestive acids but does not fully digest, it can move back up into your throat, causing irritation. Vomiting is an extreme example of this irritating situation.
  • Infectious disease — There are a number of viral and bacterial infections that can cause a sore throat. The more common ones include: influenza, measles, croup, chickenpox, mononucleosis and strep throat. Fungal infections are less likely to cause a sore throat, but they are possible. Oral thrush and cytomegalovirus are the more common ones. People with a compromised immune system, such as those infected with HIV, are most likely to experience a sore throat with these fungal infections.
  • Cancer — While a sore throat is not necessarily a symptom of cancer, it can occur in cancer patients. Tumors in the throat, larynx or tongue, caused by cancer in those regions, may cause a sore throat. Other symptoms that occur with a cancerous sore throat are difficulty swallowing, blood in the saliva and a hoarse voice.

Considering the range of possible causes, it is a good idea to see a doctor if you have a severe or persistent sore throat.Ruling out anything serious will give you piece of mind, and the doctor could have a remedy that will alleviate your pain is a short period of time.

Never Miss a Beat!

Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!

Message and data rates may apply. Text the word STOP to opt out and HELP for help. Click here to view the privacy and terms.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Your Sore Throat

Diagnosing the cause of a sore throat can be complicated. There are over-the-counter medicines available to ease the pain of a sore throat, but the underlying condition must resolve for the sore throat to go away permanently.

In addition to the over the counter remedies, there are also some prescriptions available depending on the cause of your sore throat. The doctors at AllBetterCare in Harrisburg and Carlisle can diagnose your sore throat and help you with the appropriate remedy.

If you have a sore throat, the American Academy of Otolaryngology suggests you see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Joint pain
  • Rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood in your saliva
  • A lump in your neck
  • A sore throat that lasts more than a week
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Earache
  • Frequent recurrence
  • Trouble opening your mouth
  • Fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Hoarse voice for over two weeks

If your child has a sore throat and it does not resolve after the first drink in the morning, it is a good idea to seek medical attention. Additionally, if your child experiences difficulty swallowing or breathing or unusual drooling, you should seek a medical diagnosis right away.

What Is a Cough?

A sore throat may be accompanied by a cough. When a cough first presents, it does not necessarily include a sore throat. After a period of time, however, the cough will cause a sore throat even if none existed before.

A cough is your body’s way of protecting your lungs. It is a reflex that expels potential irritants before they can get into your lungs and cause infection. A cough also protects your airway by clearing any debris that would restrict airflow.

Coughs are categorized by the length of time they last. Common colds and upper respiratory infections usually produce an acute cough, which is one that last less than three weeks. Pneumonia and whooping cough can also result in an acute cough. Generally, an acute cough goes away when the illness is gone.

A subacute cough, however, continues to hang on after the causative illness or infection clears up. This type of cough can last anywhere from three to eight weeks.

Coughs that last longer than eight weeks are considered chronic. They are usually due to long-lasting conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma, sinus infection or allergies.

While coughing is a natural reaction to irritants in your throat, it can cause uncomfortable side effects. Coughing for a long period of time can result in loss of bladder control, exhaustion, light-headedness and chest pain. The continued flexing of the throat and chest muscles required to cough can cause muscle strain and cramping. Sleep patterns, social activities and work can also be interrupted by uncontrolled coughing.

Possible Causes of Coughs

The best way to treat a cough is to identify the cause. Coughs are caused by many of the same things that cause sore throats — it’s a wide range of possibilities from infections to asthma. A cough might also be caused by angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, drugs often prescribed for hypertension. These drugs can create a chronic cough condition in some people.

In addition to the common causes for coughs, there are some other reasons people develop chronic coughs. These causes can be more serious:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux
  • Aspiration
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis

These conditions cause or are accompanied by a cough in many instances, but a cough is not the main sign or symptom. You would most likely know you had one of these conditions before you noticed a cough, with probably just two exceptions.

Aspiration, or the process of drawing a foreign body into your airway, is an acute condition. It is something that happens suddenly, can be life-threatening and must be treated immediately. For adults, food is the most commonly aspirated substance. Coughing during this emergency indicates that the airway is not completely blocked. The concern, though, is that the food could move at any time and stop the flow of air. For children, aspirating often happens with toys or other foreign bodies they put in their mouths.

The other possible cause of coughing that can be acute in nature is non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis. As the name suggests, it is not the same type of airway constriction seen with asthma. Non-asthmatic eosinophilic bronchitis can come and go, just show up once or twice or be ongoing. More research is needed to fully understand this cause for cough.

Coughs of unknown cause that are severe or last more than a couple days should be treated by a medical professional. Over-the-counter remedies for a cough are good for short-term relief, but the underlying cause of a cough needs to be diagnosed and treated promptly.

How to Ease the Pain of a Cough

Suppressing a cough with over-the-counter medications can be counter productive to achieving lasting relief. In some cases, a cough is a useful means of ridding your body of germs carried in the mucus you cough up. In other situations, the cough is moving that mucus around to clear out your airways and remove fluid from your lungs.

If you don’t know what helps a cough, here are some things you can do to alleviate your coughing and generally protect the health of your lungs and throat:

  • Breathe in moisture — Standing in a hot shower will let your lungs, throat and nose take in the steam. That moisture is what soothes the mucus membranes inside of these organs and relaxes your coughing spasms.
  • Drink plenty of water — Water is an essential part of good health. It helps flush out toxins, including infections, and it also dilutes the thick mucus dripping down the back of your throat. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your mucus membranes moist and relieves eases throat irritation.
  • Avoid airborne irritants — Everything from perfume to smoke that is carried in the air is a potential irritant to your respiratory system. When you are exposed to irritants, coughing can be one of your immune responses. Determine which airborne irritants elicit a particularly noticeable response from you and try to avoid them.
  • Soothe your throat — Using lozenges that numb your throat can provide temporary relief from a cough. Other soothing substances like honey and warm tea can help, too. Honey coats the back of the throat, moisturizing it and protecting from irritants. Warm drinks like tea relax the muscles in your throat to calm the cough.

Even if you are able to get relief from your cough with one of these home remedies or an over-the-counter cough medicine, it is important to seek medical attention to care for a harsh cough.


About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.