How Serious Are Throat Sores?
You are brushing your teeth, and you notice a red, swollen, sensitive spot in your mouth. You may even find it hard to eat and talk. What could this be? You most likely are experiencing a throat sore or ulcer. Here is what you need to know about throat sore causes and treatment options.
What are the causes of throat sores?
A throat sore or ulcer is an open wound in the mouth, and it can form in the mouth, back of the throat and even in the esophagus. A variety of reasons can cause throat sores, and some of the primary causes can include:
- Infections, including bacteria (for example, tonsil stones), fungal (such as yeast or thrush) and viral (such as herpes simplex virus or hand, foot and mouth disease), can cause sores to form in your throat or esophagus.
- Oropharyngeal cancer, a cancer in the part of your throat that’s right behind your mouth, can present as sores or lumps in the neck, mouth or throat. A high majority of oropharyngeal cancer is caused by HPV infection.
- Consumption of too much acidic food or drink, such as those containing citrus and vinegar, and beverages containing caffeine and alcohol, can cause canker sores. A canker sore is a small, shallow sore inside the mouth or at the base of the gums. Examples of acidic food include lemons, pineapple, tomatoes and highly processed foods, to name a few.
- Certain medications can cause throat sores, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), bisphosphonates (a group of medicines used to treat bone problems) and some antibiotics.
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), which causes acid from your stomach to come back up your esophagus, can cause ulcers or sores in your throat if it frequently happens.
- Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment may develop throat sores, also called mucositis. Chemotherapy can suppress your immune system, and patients may be more likely to get oral yeast infections, which leading to throat sores and ulcers or making current throat sores worse. An oral yeast infection often looks like you have a coating of cottage cheese in your mouth.
- People who excessively use their voice, such as singers, may irritate their vocal cords, causing sores.
What are the symptoms of throat sores?
Symptoms of throat sores can depend on the causes of the sores, but symptoms can include:
- Sore mouth or throat
- Trouble talking or swallowing
- White-filled bumps in your mouth or throat
- Red, inflamed bumps in your mouth or throat
- Bad breath
- Fever or chills
- Heartburn, which can feel like a burning sensation in your chest
What to avoid if you have throat sores
If you have a sore or ulcer in your mouth, there are a few things you will want to avoid because it may further irritate the sore.
- Avoid spicy and acidic foods
- Don’t smoke or drink. Both can cause further irritation of the sore.
- Avoid mouthwash that contains alcohol — it could make your sores burn
- Avoid rough and hard foods, such as chips.
What are the treatment options for throat sores?
Treatment of your throat sore or ulcer will depend on the cause.
- If your throat sore is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, your provider may decide to put you on antibodies or antifungal medication. Treating those infections will help treat the sores as well.
- If your throat sores are caused by acid reflux, try taking an over-the-counter antacid. This will help neutralize your stomach and reduce the amount of acid it produces.
- If your sores are causing you pain, you might want to consider a pain reliever, such as Tylenol. Your provider may also prescribe mouthwashes containing medications such as the local anesthetic lidocaine to help with the pain. But be careful of pain relievers that may further irate your sores, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
- If you have a canker sore, gargling with warm salt water or a mixture of salt, water and baking soda may help speed up healing.
- If your throat sores are caused by overuse of your voice, consider resting and taking a break from talking or singing.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water. Drinking cold fluids or sucking on something cold, like ice chips or a popsicle, can help soothe the sores.
Can I prevent throat sores?
While you can’t always prevent getting throat sores, there are lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your chances of getting them.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Excess weight can push on your stomach, leading to acid reflux and GERD, both of which can cause throat sores. Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce your likelihood of getting throat sores.
- Quit smoking. Not only is smoking bad for your overall health and can lead to things like cancer, but it can also cause throat sores. If you are a smoker, take advantage of Ochsner’s free smoking cessation program, available to Louisiana and Mississippi residents 18 years and older.
- Practice good hygiene. From brushing your teeth regularly, which can help prevent mouth infections, to washing your hands frequently to reduce the spread of viruses, maintaining good hygiene can help reduce your chances of throat sores.
- Monitor your medication. If your medication is causing you to have throat sores, talk with your provider to see if adjustments can be made.
Learn more about primary care physician Kazumi Yoshinaga, DO.