Q+A: Why do I get a sore throat when I train hard?

Q I have recently discovered that when I’m training and racing hard I end up suffering from a terrible sore throat. I eat a well balanced diet, take multi-vitamins and have tried echinacea. Should I take antibiotics, cut down on the alcohol – I don’t think I drink excessively for a woman, but I often manage three glasses of wine an evening – and avoid other people after a run?

A It certainly isn’t uncommon for runners to suffer from sore throats when they’re training, so you’re not alone. Training and racing hard does reduce your potential to resist infection.

The first thing to clear up is the use of antibiotics with sore throats. Treatments like these are only effective against bacteria, yet statistically 95 per cent of sore throats are not caused by bacteria, but by viruses and other irritants. These may include catarrh, environmental factors such as the dryness that can occur if you are running with your mouth open all the time, and so on. If these sore throats are happening particularly frequently, though, it might be a good idea to ask your doctor for the opinion of an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Your alcohol intake is in line with maximum Government recommendations, though it’s more than the majority of doctors are happy with, for women. There would certainly be no harm in reducing your alcohol intake, and you might find that indeed this does reduce your incidence of sore throats. However, because there are millions of potentially infectious organisms in every inhaled breath, people around you or not, you won’t benefit from avoiding other humans after a run.

My own favourite treatment for a sore throat caused by an irritant rather than bacteria, is to gargle every two or three hours with soluble aspirin dissolved in water, spitting it out afterwards. The aspirin is absorbed into the irritated area and is very effective at calming the inflammation.

Dr Patrick Milroy, RW Medical Advisor.