Five things to do this winter to decrease sore throat

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The cold weather of winter brings not just icicles and snowflakes forming but also suspension and freezing of viruses and bacteria in the air, making it much more likely for us to inhale them and become infected as we walk through the suspended particles exhaled by persons around us. 

These preserved bacteria or viruses then reactivate and multiply once inhaled, causing infections in our respiratory tract and throat. The COVID-19 infection joins and currently tops the list of all the inhaled infectious particles that we inhale, with subsequent onset of many symptoms including decrease in sense of smell and a sore throat.

Respiratory tract infections can cause one to get a sore throat by the particles directly affecting the tonsils, especially the palatine and nasopharyngeal tonsils or adenoids. Both of these tonsils in particular trap some of the inhaled particles and try to envelop them as a part of our immune defense. 

In doing so, depending on the bacterial or viral load, we may get a very significant sore throat that interferes with our saliva, our ability to swallow foods, turn our necks, speak and  breathe. We may also develop ear pain that is referred from the throat. Often the ear pain is the breaking point at which someone seeks medical attention because of a sore throat, especially if sore throats are something they experience frequently.  

Here are five tips to help minimize your chances of developing a sore throat:

1. Avoid close contact if at all possible. 

Being in close contact means you are breathing in a higher concentration of exhaled, possibly infectious particles from those around you. Staying six feet apart or further is helpful in allowing these droplets to fall closer to the ground so that they do not end up in your respiratory tract.

2. Wear a mask. 

I understand that for some of you this is getting to be a broken record. It has shown to be effective in decreasing the spread of infections, which I am sure many of you may have experienced over the past two years noticing the significant decrease in sinusitis and tonsillitis. 

Please note that even when wearing a mask, if you must sneeze, still try to aim into an elbow or down towards the ground away from others to minimize your droplets becoming airborne.

3. Saline rinses and/or neti pot

Rinsing your nose and hand washing are excellent topical ways of decreasing the amount of infectious load that your body must on an ongoing basis try to overcome.  Trying not to touch your face in addition to washing your hands is helpful. 

Using saline sprays in your nose will help to not only decrease the amount of particle load, but also the salts in the saline spray can be deadly to some infectious agents. Reducing their numbers allows your body to more effectively fight and overcome the smaller particle load.

4. Adequate rest, multivitamins, hydration 

Without adequate sleep our bodies simply do not function well and have a much harder time recovering from any infection. While adequate sleep may vary to some degree night to night and from person to person, ideally 7-8 hours of sleep should be the goal, especially if there are any signs of pending infection. 

A liquid multivitamin in particular is ideal in being more bioavailable. Certainly taking it even further would be to add honey with or without added lemon to further coat and soothe the throat.

5. Get vaccinated. 

Many of the inhaled particles or viruses, including the flu and COVID-19 viruses, are less symptomatic for those who are immunized. Our chances of getting ill decrease, as well as in general our ability to deal with the infection itself is improved, as we have existing antibodies that can immediately swing into action and start attacking the infection.

I encourage you to follow these five simple actions to a healthier respiratory tract and throat this winter!

Dr. Inell Rosario is a board certified ENT and sleep physician practicing at Andros ENT & Sleep Center in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. She has many times been recognized as a Top Doctor and Best Doctor in various Minnesota magazines and can be reached at drrosario@androsent-sleep.com or 651-888-7800.