Throat discomfort may have a variety of causes and a range of symptoms, all of which should be considered before decisions about treatment are made, report researchers.
Most cases of sore throat can be managed with over-the-counter treatments and other remedies, say Dilys Addey (Addey Associates, Tollerton, Nottingham, UK) and colleagues.
"However, to date there is limited information available regarding consumers' perceptions of throat discomfort or their treatment needs."
In an analysis of online consumer surveys completed across four countries between 2003 and 2004, Addey and colleagues found that 3514 (54%) of 6465 individuals had suffered one or more incidents of sore throat in the previous 12 months. This number comprised 47%, 46%, 52%, and 90% of the British, French, Malaysian, and Polish populations, respectively, who were surveyed.
As reported in BMC Ear, Nose and Throat, the common cold/influenza was perceived to be the most frequent cause of throat discomfort, accounting for 72% of causes reported. This was followed by other bacteria/viruses, sudden changes in temperature, hot and dry indoor conditions, and dust and outdoor conditions.
Symptoms reported as caused by infection were associated with a higher degree of suffering than other perceived causes. Using a scale of 1-5 to estimate increasing degrees of suffering, individuals who reported a bacteria/virus infection had a mean severity score of 3.4, those who reported common cold/influenza 3.0, specific allergy 2.8, and hay fever 2.7.
For passive smoking, sudden change in temperature and air conditioning, talking/shouting, and snoring, patients reported severity scores of 2.7, 2.7, 2.6, and 2.3, respectively.
The researchers also found that the treatments patients chose differed according to the perceived cause of throat discomfort.
Those with symptoms attributed to bacterial/viral infection or cold/influenza were the most likely to use medicated products, hot drinks, throat sweets, or to consult a general practitioner; patients with symptoms caused by hot and dry conditions, dust, air conditioning, or temperature changes were more likely to soothe their throats with hot and/or cold drinks. For irritation resulting from talking/shouting, throat lozenges were the preferred choice.
The team also found that almost half of the respondents waited a short time before seeking treatment, but that about one-third of them sought help immediately upon experiencing symptoms.
"Pharmacists should advise the most appropriate treatments based on the active ingredients and a range of different treatment options should be provided depending on whether patients require rapid relief, sensorial relief, or protection/prevention against symptoms," conclude Addey and team.
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