Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 17, 2022
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The five kinds of sore throat

An easy to swallow guide

Just a guess: Last time you went to a doctor for a sore throat, Mom drove and you missed a day of school. Now that you're a grown-up, start with this checklist, prepared with the help of Greg Grillone, M.D., an otolaryngologist at Boston University's medical center.

Constant ache

What it means: Pain fibers in irritated mucous membranes are reacting to inflammation.
Remedy: If it's severe, see a doctor for a strep test -- a streptococcal infection, the most common bacterial throat infections, may lead to rheumatic fever. Antibiotics can knock it out.

Tickle or incessant cough

What it means: Nerve endings are reacting to inflammation or irritation of mucous membranes and are triggering cough receptors.
Remedy: Gargle with salt water and take an over-the-counter medication containing dextromethorphan, which takes effect within 30 minutes.

Hoarseness or no voice

What it means: Laryngitis, or swollen vocal cords; commonly caused by a viral infection.
Remedy: Wait it out with aspirin. Viruses can't be fought with meds. And shut up -- whispering can be more of a strain than talking.

Coughing up phlegm

What it means: Infection, possibly bronchitis. You're churning out thicker mucus than normal to fight the infection.
Remedy: Same as for the tickle. Guaifenesin, an expectorant found in some cough medicines (read the label), will help break up the mucus.

Swollen lymph nodes

What it means: An aggressive virus or infection like mononucleosis. Your nodes are working overtime to fend off the sickness.
Remedy: Consult a doctor for a strep or blood test.

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