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Diagnosis and Treatmentof Throat Disorders

The throat is the passageway that connects the nose and mouth to the larynx and esophagus. It plays a critical role in both digestion and respiration, allowing food and liquids to be swallowed through the esophagus for digestion, and air from oral and nasal cavities to flow past the trachea and larynx to facilitate breathing and speaking.

Aside from the pharynx and larynx, the throat also contains the epiglottis, trachea, tonsils, uvula, esophagus and vocal cords, among others. Any illness, injury or abnormality that affects the structure and function of these organs constitute throat disorders.

Types of Throat Disorders

Throat disorders are fairly common, most of which are caused by viral infections, allergens and environmental factors. These tend to go away on their own with little to no treatment. In some cases, however, throat surgery may be required.

There are many types of throat disorders, the most common of which include:

  • Pharyngitis – Colloquially known as sore throat, pharyngitis refers to the inflammation of the pharynx, resulting in pain, dryness, scratchiness and itchiness in the throat and difficulty swallowing. It is typically caused by a viral infection like influenza, mononucleosis or the common cold.
  • Strep Throat – Streptococcal pharyngitis, also called strep throat, is characterized by tiny red spots on the roof of the mouth and flu-like symptoms, including sore throat, fever, painful swallowing, and swollen tonsils and lymph nodes. It is contagious, and is caused by group A Streptococcus.
  • Laryngitis – Infections, irritations and overuse of the larynx (voice box) can result in laryngitis, which causes symptoms, including sore throat, hoarseness, dry cough, fever, and difficulty speaking or swallowing.
  • Tonsillitis – This condition refers to the inflammation of the tonsils, which are the two glands found on each side of the throat under the uvula. It is caused by either viral or bacterial infections and symptoms include red and swollen tonsils, white or yellow patches on the tonsils, sore throat, fever and difficulty swallowing.
  • Hoarseness – An abnormal change of a patient’s voice to one that is raspy or higher or lower in pitch. This condition is caused by viral infections such as cough or flu in the upper respiratory tract.
  • Chronic Cough – This is a persistent cough that lasts for 4 weeks for children, and 8 weeks for adults. Common causes of this illness are allergies and asthma. If there is difficulty breathing or blood being coughed up, immediate medical attention should be sought.
  • Oesophageal and Laryngopharyngeal Reflux – These conditions refer to gastric contents or acid from the stomach that backflow into the larynx and pharynx. Symptoms include hoarseness, chronic cough, and heartburn.
  • Presence of Foreign Bodies (e.g. fish bones)
  • Halitosis (Bad Breath) – This is commonly caused by poor dental hygiene and is also a possible sign of conditions such as sinus infection or gastrointestinal problems.

Diagnosis of Throat Disorders

Throat disorders can be diagnosed by simply examining the throat, as well as the ears, nasal cavities and lymph nodes of the patient.

To screen for viral or bacterial infections such as strep throat and tonsillitis, a throat culture may be used. Here, the patient is asked to tilt his/her head back and open his/her mouth wide. The throat doctor will then rub a sterile swab at the back of the throat near the tonsils, and take a sample of secretions. This sample will be cultured and undergo further testing in a laboratory.

Endoscopies may be performed to get a clearer view inside the throat, including the larynx and vocal cords, and check for symptoms and other abnormalities. For instance, laryngitis is typically diagnosed via laryngoscopy, where a lighted viewing instrument is inserted into the mouth to view back of the throat.

Imaging tests and biopsies are usually conducted to check for polyps and tumors.

Treatment of Throat Disorders

Mild throat conditions can be treated at home with sufficient rest and over-the-counter medication, and do not require the attention of an ENT specialist or throat doctor.

Throat disorders can be caused by bacterial and viral infections. Viral infections such as pharyngitis and laryngitis are treated symptomatically. This usually means drinking plenty of fluids and resting the throat by refraining from talking, singing and even whispering. Lozenges and over-the-counter pain relievers can also be taken to soothe the throat. If the conditions are caused by a bacterial infection, however, antibiotics may be administered.

Strep throat, in particular, is a bacterial infection that requires the immediate medical attention of a throat doctor. Antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin are commonly prescribed for strep throat, in addition to self-care methods previously mentioned.

In the case of severe tonsillitis where there is already difficulty swallowing and breathing, the throat surgeon may opt to remove the tonsils via tonsillectomy. Surgery is also a main form of treatment for throat cancer and polyps.

If left untreated, throat conditions may worsen and have a significant impact in one’s health and daily life. Getting timely medical attention is key to ensuring a full and quick recovery. Dr Lau Chee Chong is a throat doctor and paediatric ENT specialist with diagnostic, medical and surgical expertise in managing throat and ENT disorders. To book an appointment, call 6235-9535.

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