Sore Throat

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Ever had a sore throat? I used to get them all the time as a child, but nowadays, not so often.

Which is not necessarily such a good thing. 

To find out why, read on.

But first, how are sore throats explained in Chinese medicine?

By the way, when you say you have a sore throat, your doctor will correct you and say you have a sore pharynx - pharyngitis - because your pharynx is the part of the tube behind your mouth and

  • above your larynx (which goes via your vocal chords to your lungs - properly called your laryngopharynx) and
  • reaching down to your oesophagus (the tube which takes food to your stomach)
  • Your pharynx also reaches up to behind your nose. That's the nasopharynx.

Do these long words excite you? If so, you probably shouldn't stay too long on this site. Go and have a good time here.

Sore Throats indicate Heat of some kind

Well, if it's sore it's an inflammation, a sign of heat.

But there are lots of kinds of heat. For example - just some of them:

Some of those don't sound so good, do they?

And what's this full and empty stuff? Actually that's not too difficult to explain.

Fullness comes early and strong in a disease. It hangs around a bit longer if you are (young and) fit, or if (your reaction to) the disease is very strong.

Emptiness comes when your body is (older and) tireder and has lost some of its ability to cool and nourish your tissues. So if you've had a sore throat for years, it is more likely to be this 'deficiency' or 'empty' type of pharyngitis.

For more on full and empty, click here.

Toxic Heat

Toxic heat sore throat

What about toxic heat? That's when you've had heat for so long that it's actually excavated down into the structure of your throat, eroding the tissues. You get swelling and redness too.

Jolly sore. Who wants this?

Well, children don't, but it's children who mostly get it, because children are so frequently infected by bugs (eg coughs and colds) that their systems haven't yet learned to cope with. Also, they are often allowed to eat the wrong foods, making them more susceptible.

And toxic heat which erodes the tissues means that the body, between further bugs, may be able to repair some of the damage. When it's not fighting the bugs it's got more resources to throw at the problem, so this kind of sore throat can come and go.

Swelling, Painful and Red?

OK, these are typical symptoms, which means you may be slightly different.

  • The swelling, in Chinese medicine, technically means that the Heat has so heated up the tissues of the throat that they have expanded, causing what is called 'Damp'.


If your pain, swelling and redness began quickly, say over one or two days, or faster, usually accompanied by other symptoms of catching a bug, such as headache, feeling ill, possibly sneezing and so on, then it's classified as being caused by Wind-Heat invading you.


However, if you've had redness, pain and swelling since forever, it's almost certainly not an acute illness. It's chronic and your body has basically reached an impasse with the problem. It has lost the ability to fight it off, but at least it's trying to keep the problem from getting any further in.

And it's probably to do with your Stomach. In which case, it's probably diagnosed as Stomach-Heat. The symptoms of this can still be quite severe, including feeling hot, very thirsty, lots of perspiration and a fever, which is probably worse in the afternoon. If this is your pattern your pulse will be fast and your tongue red, with a yellow coating.

The disease process here is deeper than at the acute level and rather harder to cure. Antibiotics will often fix it for a while (though they may amount to suppression), but unless the real inner problem, the Stomach Heat, is sorted out it will recur.

A herbal formula based on Bai Hu Tang is usually used, but don't diagnose and use this yourself. Get someone who knows about it to do it. Herbs are less powerful than antibiotics, but still powerful - for good and ill. Acupuncture can greatly help too.

Throat/Pharynx Yellow-Red too?

If you have not just swelling and pain, but also a sore throat that looks yellowy-red AND

  • you have a very smelly breath AND
  • your tongue is covered in revolting thick yellow muck

you've probably got something called Stomach and Intestines Full-Heat.

As the name implies this relates to your Stomach and Intestines which are generating much more heat than normal.

Other signs of this are

  • either hot, smelly diarrhoea or constipation, and 
  • thirst and a quick temper because the heat easily transfers to and disturbs your mind.

You see this often in children, and sometimes teething can produce it.

Acupuncture works well for this syndrome.

For children, I tend to use a homoeopathic remedy because it's easy to take and works fast and they like taking it.

Also, the parent doesn't need to bring the child to see me if they can obtain the remedy over the counter.

Ah .... do I hear you say 'what's the remedy'? Yes. Well. That's the tricky part. It could be one of a number of remedies, which is why it's handy to be able to consult an experienced homoeopath.

But, in any case, someone with this syndrome should avoid Hot Foods.

Sore and Dry but NOT Red or Swollen?

Here there is no sign of real of Full Heat, but a definite lack of resources to soothe, moisturise and cool. So it's sore and dry and is probably 'Empty Heat'.

It's due to Yin Deficiency.

For why you've got it, click here.

There are various kinds of Yin deficiency and probably yours is either

Just to cheer you up, you could have both!

If so, your sore throat may not be the main symptom that bothers you: it's just an unhappy extra.

In either case - or both of them - getting better is going to be a slower process. You'll need to rest a lot, and getting the right treatment will be important. In particular avoid antibiotics and anti-inflammatory-type painkillers, because your energy is down and they'll push it further down, even if, temporarily, they seem to help by soothing your throat.

What you eat will also be important. For general advice, first read Nutrition, then realise that although you prefer cool foods, ice or drinks, they actually take energy to digest. So it's better to avoid most foods classified as Cold Foods.

Unfortunately, Hot foods won't help much either: you need warm foods, ie food that is cooked and warm to the touch (but not heating, like many Hot Foods).

So you're up the creek with just the one paddle. You must travel cautiously and seek help. Acupuncturists and Chinese herbalists have strategies that will help you.

.. more to come ...

This page on sore throats isn't finished. I'll add more in due course.

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