Throat Ulcers: Causes & Treatment Options

A throat ulcer consists of a small, round sore which is whitish in the middle and reddish on the outside and causes pain and discomfort, especially when swallowing or speaking. In some cases, there can be other symptoms present such as fever, malaise and swelling of the neck ganglia.

This type of ulcer may appear after ingesting acidic food or can be the first sign of a weakened immune system, appearing when you have herpes after a cold. When throat ulcers are very big and take a long time to heal, they can indicate the presence of a more serious disease such as AIDS or cancer.

The doctor may prescribe ointments for treating throat ulcers and suggest the elimination of acidic foods from your diet, for example. Another suggestion is to gargle warm water with salt, which may relieve discomfort.

What a throat canker sore looks like
What a throat canker sore looks like

Main causes for throat ulcers

Throat ulcers may be caused by:

  • Weakened immune system, especially if you have herpes, because the virus may have infected the lining of the mouth and throat;
  • Acidic foods, such as pineapple, tomato or pepper;
  • Stomach problems, such as acid reflux;
  • Lack of B-complex vitamins, folic acid or minerals like iron can also cause throat ulcers.

If you get throat canker more than once a month or with less than 1 week between two outbreaks, you should see a general practitioner for blood tests that can help identify what may be causing the problem. Once the diagnosis is made, appropriate treatment is started so as to prevent the sore from appearing again.

Other situations that may cause small sores in the throat are tonsil stones, tonsillitis, and aphthous stomatitis, which are more common in infants.

Remedy options for treating throat ulcers

The treatment of throat ulcers can be done with topical corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory ointments, such as Omcilon-A or Gingilone or with topical anaesthetic ointments, such as Xylocaine Ointment 5%, which are prescribed by a doctor and applied with a finger or with the help of a cotton swab.

Other drugs that can be used to relieve pain caused by throat ulcers are Paracetamol or Ibuprofen, for example, and which should also be recommended by a doctor. CO2 laser and Nd:YAG can be used if the throat canker sore is greater than 1 cm in diameter, and they can also be used to treat recurrent canker sores in the throat which make it difficult to eat and drink. The procedure should be done at a medical centre.

What to do to treat throat ulcers faster

To help heal throat ulcers, some cautions should be taken that include:

  • Rinsing your mouth with mouthwash after brushing your teeth, as this can help to eliminate bacteria and cleanse the area;
  • Not eating acidic foods like lemon, pineapple, tomato, kiwi and orange, as the acidity increases pain;
  • Eating more foods rich in B complex vitamins, folic acid and iron such as banana, mango, low-fat yogurt or apple juice, because the lack of these vitamins can cause throat ulcers;
  • Gargling with warm water and salt or hydrogen peroxide diluted in water, as they are antiseptic and clean the area. To prepare the gargle, simply add 1 tablespoon of salt into 1 cup of warm water or 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide 10 volumes in 1 glass of water.
  • Not worsening the lesions in the mouth by not eating hard foods such as toast, peanuts, nuts;
  • Using a toothbrush with soft bristles;
  • Not using oral hygiene products containing sodium lauryl sulphate.

If you follow treatment correctly and keep these recommendations in mind, throat ulcers tend to disappear naturally within a few days.

When to go to the doctor

When throat ulcers appear very often, for instance more than 6 times a year, the causes should be looked into, so see if there are other symptoms and go to the doctor. If the doctor has questions about what is causing the canker sore, he may request:

  • Complete blood count with HSV count;
  • Iron, ferritin and iron uptake, vitamin B12;
  • Anti-HIV, viral cultures and biopsy.

However, there is usually no need to request these exams and they are generally done when the cases are difficult to control.

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  • BIBLIOTECA VIRTUAL EM SAÚDE (MINISTÉRIO DA SAÚDE). Aftas. 2015. Available on: <>. Access in 30 Mar 2020
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  • TELESSAUDERS UFRGS. ULCERAÇÃO AFTOSA RECORRENTE. Available on: <>. Access in 30 Mar 2020
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