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Why does my throat hurt every winter?

December 2, 2022 • read

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Why does my throat hurt every winter?

Winter is a great time for holidays and outdoor sports. Unfortunately, it’s the worst time of year for getting sick, especially with a sore throat. Even if you don’t have a cold or the flu, your throat might still feel achy, making it hard to focus on anything else.

If this sounds all too familiar, a doctor on Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth app with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists. You can connect with a general practitioner on Maple in minutes, 24/7 for your sore throat, cold, flu, and many other common conditions, all from the comfort of your home.

If your throat feels sore in winter, you’re likely not imagining it. Here’s what may be causing it and how to help prevent a sore throat when it’s chilly out in the first place.

How can cold weather affect your throat?

Cold weather and sore throats go hand in hand, but a bacterial or viral infection isn’t its only cause. Your pharynx (throat) is a tube that carries food to your esophagus before reaching your stomach, and air to your larynx (windpipe) before reaching your lungs. Pharyngitis, also known as a sore throat, happens when there’s inflammation in the back of the throat.

In winter, the cold, dry air can cause a sore throat because it has the ability to dry out the tissue, resulting in irritation. A dry environment and a low indoor humidity level during the winter months are just some of the non-infectious causes of a sore throat in cold weather. Others include:

If you wake up every morning with a sore throat in winter, it’s likely one of the reasons listed above.

Most of the time, however, the cause of a sore throat in winter is in fact, a cold or the flu. Other infectious causes include:

  • Strep throat
  • Mononucleosis
  • Tonsilitis

These infections happen more in cold temperatures because viruses tend to survive better in the cold, dry, winter air. On top of that, we spend more time indoors in the fall and winter, which means these illnesses can pass with close contact — especially to those with a weakened immune system.

Signs and symptoms of a sore throat in winter

Pretty much everyone has experienced a sore throat at some point. This can make your throat feel painful when swallowing as well as dry and scratchy. Most often, when a virus like a cold is causing your sore throat, you’ll also have symptoms such as:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Hoarse voice
  • Earache

A sore throat caused by A Streptococcus (strep throat) presents a bit differently. Symptoms of strep throat include:

  • Sore throat that comes on quickly
  • Painful swallowing
  • Fever
  • Red and swollen tonsils — there may even be white patches or pus
  • Small red spots on the roof of your mouth
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the front of your neck

How long does a sore throat last?

Sore throats typically last anywhere from a few days to a week. Sore throats that stick around for a week or longer are called chronic sore throats. If you’re wondering why your sore throat isn’t getting any better in this case, it’s time to connect with a healthcare provider to determine the cause. You may even require further testing or prescription medication to help with the infection, pain, or both.

Sore throat or winter allergies?

If you find that the changing weather brings on your sore throat, but you don’t have cold or flu symptoms, the cause may be winter allergies. Winter allergies tend to act up when you spend a lot more time inside.

Typically when people think of seasonal allergies, they relate it to spring and summer, when pollen is in the air outside. But the air inside can be filled with indoor allergens like dry air, dust mites, mould, pet dander (if you have pets), and even cockroach droppings and shells. Consistent exposure to these allergens can make your body see them as invaders, spurring allergy symptoms such as:

  • Sore throat
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Rashes
  • Morning headaches
  • Postnasal drip
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath if you have allergic asthma

Thankfully, there are a handful of things you can do around your home to help manage your winter allergies, like:

  • Dusting and vacuuming often
  • Reducing the amount of dust-catching fabric around your home (pillows, throws, carpets, etc.)
  • Washing curtains, blankets, and bedding often
  • Using premium HVAC filters and change them frequently
  • Keeping food well-sealed to avoid pests
  • Watching for leaks and checking damp places for mould
  • Washing any human or pet stuffed toys

There are also plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays that can help.

However, sometimes OTC medications just aren’t enough to tackle allergies. Instead, you might want to speak with an allergist who can diagnose and treat winter allergies, among many others allergy triggers. They may also recommend immunotherapy to help you build an immune response to the allergen that’s causing you to have allergic reactions.

How do you prevent a sore throat in winter?

There’s no permanent escape from winter in Canada (unless you’re a snowbird), so sore throat prevention matters. Here’s what you can do to help maintain optimal throat health during the colder months:

  • Wash your hands often. This should go without saying, but winter is brutal for colds and the flu, one of the biggest culprits of sore throats in winter. So make washing your hands a priority after hitting up the grocery store, gym, making your morning coffee in the staff lunchroom, or hanging out with friends.
  • Keep your hands away from your face, specifically your eyes, nose, and mouth. These are all ports for sore throat-causing germs to creep into.
  • Drink lots of water. Doing this helps to thin out mucous and keep your throat hydrated.
  • Don’t smoke. Aside from being the leading cause of lung cancer, smoking can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infections. It can also irritate the tissues that line your throat.
  • Hook up a humidifier at home or the office. Humidifiers put moisture into the air, which can help keep your mucous membrane moist and your sinuses from drying out.

6 tips to soothe a sore throat this winter

If you’ve done all you can and still have a sore throat during winter, there are many options to help soothe it.

1. Suck on ice chips, popsicles, or lozenges. This produces saliva, which can lubricate the throat. Some lozenges also have benzocaine, a local anesthetic that can numb the pain in the back of your throat.

2. Gargle with salt water. If you have a viral or bacterial infection, doing this helps to remove the build-up of mucus and inflammation. This is also helpful in relieving pain and inflammation due to sore throats from winter allergies.

3. Use a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer. This can help moisten the air and your throat.

4. Drink warm liquids, like tea and soup. Doing this has been shown to provide immediate relief of a sore throat and other cold and flu symptoms. Plus, who doesn’t love a warm, comforting hot drink in the winter?

5. Add honey to your hot liquids (for adults or children over the age of one). Honey has antibacterial properties and coats the throat, which can make it feel better temporarily.

6. Talk to a pharmacist about OTC medications or speak to a doctor about a prescription if the pain is getting worse.

How Maple can help your sore throat

If you’ve been dealing with a sore throat for a few days, consider seeking treatment from a doctor. If you’ve had pain for more than week that’s accompanied by difficulty breathing, swallowing, or a high fever, that’s how you know your sore throat is serious and you’ll need to talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

Thankfully, with Maple, you can see a Canadian-licensed doctor online for sore throat treatment in minutes. The doctor may prescribe a mix of anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and oral steroid medications for adults. For children with strep throat, a prescription for an antibiotic like amoxicillin may be required. All of this will be determined by the doctor during your consultation.

Having a sore throat is uncomfortable and frustrating, and the last thing you want to do is sit at the walk-in clinic for relief. Talk to a doctor in minutes today and put that aching throat to rest.

​​This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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