An itchy, scratchy or burning sore throat and problems swallowing are unfortunately common features of winter. If the condition also makes it difficult for you to eat, it can soon turn into real agony. Some people with symptoms like that are tempted to take antibiotics, but these are seldom, if ever, necessary.
Viral or bacterial infection?
Sore throats are usually triggered by viruses. Bacteria are far less likely to be responsible for the infection. Viral infections are generally accompanied by a range of cold or flu symptoms such as coughing, catarrh and earache. Fever, on the other hand, is no reliable indicator for telling what kind of infection you have, because it can occur whether the cause is viral or bacterial.
“The tonsils are another important criterion,” explains santé24 medical director Silke Schmitt Oggier. “It’s easy to examine your tonsils yourself in the mirror, particularly if you do like the dentist and press your tongue down and say ‘aah’.” If the tonsils are enlarged and red, and especially if they have a whitish, yellowish or greyish coating, the diagnosis might be bacterial tonsillitis. In this case you should consult a doctor, who will be able to use a symptom test to find out the so-called McIsaac score (see screenshot) and assess whether the infection is more likely viral or bacterial.
But the results of the test are only one of a number of indicators. The doctor may give the score a different weighting depending on additional symptoms and the way the condition is progressing. For this reason laypeople should only take the score as a rough guide. It’s no substitute for an examination or discussion with an expert. In recent times a throat swab for bacteria followed by antibiotic treatment (if bacteria are present) has only been recommended in very serious cases or for patients with a weakened immune system.
Treating sore throats without antibiotics
Inflammations of the throat, whether viral or bacterial in origin, can be very painful indeed, so you should avoid highly spicy and acidic foods. Cooling drinks, mild, soft foods and ice cream make swallowing easier. It also makes sense to take pain medication. In addition, anti-inflammatory sprays, solutions for gargling and throat lozenges can ease the pain, inflammation and symptoms.
You’ll find more information on antibiotics in our health tip “Antibiotics – careful use helps prevent resistance
” and from the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH)
(antibiotics awareness campaign).
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