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Acute sore throat is commonly associated with viral infections. Consumers typically rely on over-the-counter treatments and other remedies to treat symptoms; however, limited information is available regarding consumer perceptions of sore throat or treatment needs. The aim of this study was to investigate perceptions of throat discomfort and how these influence attitudes and consumer behaviour with regard to treatment.
Online consumer surveys were completed by participants invited by email between 2003 and 2004 in four markets: the UK, France, Poland, and Malaysia. The questionnaire consisted of 24 questions that covered key issues surrounding throat discomfort including incidence in the past 12 months, causes, severity, effects on functionality and quality of life, actions taken to relieve throat discomfort, the efficacy of these approaches and the reasons behind using specific products.
In total, 6465 men and women aged ≥18 years were surveyed, identifying 3514 participants who had suffered throat discomfort/irritation in the past 12 months (response rate of 54%). These participants completed the full survey. The breakdown of throat discomfort sufferers was: UK, 912; France, 899; Poland, 871; Malaysia, 832. A high proportion of respondents experienced one or more instances of throat discomfort in the previous 12 months, with an overall incidence of 54%. Infections including the common cold/influenza and other bacteria/viruses were commonly perceived causes of throat discomfort (72% and 46%, respectively). Physical and environmental factors were also perceived to be causative, including airborne pollution (28%), smoking (23%), and air conditioning (31%). Symptoms perceived to be caused by an infection were associated with a higher degree of suffering (mean degree of suffering for bacteria/virus and common cold/influenza; 3.4 and 3.0, respectively). Medicinal products were used for all perceived causes, but more commonly for sore throats thought to be caused by infections. Cold drinks were used more often for symptoms thought to be due to physical and environmental causes.
Not all throat discomfort is the same, as demonstrated by the range of perceived causes and the emotional and physical symptoms experienced. Patient expectations regarding treatment of throat discomfort differs and treatments should be tailored by pharmacists to suit the cause.