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Sore Throat

Causes, Possible Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

What is a Sore Throat?

Having a sore throat is a real pain – literally. It hurts to swallow, speak, eat, and drink, so it can negatively affect the quality of your day to day life. And to further aggravate matters, the common infections that typically cause a sore throat usually cause a variety of other symptoms, such as body aches, headaches, a fever, cough, and running nose, so you’re usually feeling really crummy.

Top 4 Sore Throat Causes

More often than not, a viral infection is the culprit of the sore throat you’re experiencing. The common cold, the flu, mono, and chickenpox are all typical viral infections that can cause a sore throat. It's best to assess all of your symptoms to see which of the following may be the cause of your sore throat:

1. Viral Infections

Viral infections are a common cause of sore throats, particularly among young children.[1] If you have a sore throat, it may be a sign that you have caught a cold or the flu. Both illnesses are caused by viruses.

Cold symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever (below 100.4) and mild cough.

Flu symptoms may include high fever (over 100.4), chills and sweating, muscle aches and persistent cough.

Sore throats caused by a viral infection often go away after a few days. If your symptoms do not improve or become worse over time, see a doctor.[2] While most people recover from viral infections without treatment, some may develop complications, such as pneumonia. If you have a fever of over 104 degrees or have trouble breathing, get medical help right away.[3]

2. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are another common cause of sore throats. While bacterial and viral infections have similar symptoms, bacterial infections may not get better on their own. Antibiotics are often needed to clear up a bacterial infection. If your sore throat becomes worse over the course of a few days, you may have a bacterial infection.

Strep throat and tonsillitis are two types of bacterial infections which may cause a sore throat.[4] Bacterial infection symptoms may include white spots or streaks on the throat/tonsils, swollen tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, sigh fever (over 100.4) and difficulty swallowing

3. Sinusitis

If your sinuses are inflamed, congested or infected, you may have a condition known as sinusitis.[5] When your nose is stuffy or runny, your sinuses may drain down the back of your throat. This causes your throat to feel sore or scratchy.

Sinusitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Some people also suffer from a condition known as chronic sinusitis, which is usually not caused by any kind of infection. Sinusitis may resolve on its own, or you may need prescription medication. See a doctor if your symptoms do not go away after a few days.

Sinusitis symptoms may include sinus pressure, nasal congestion, runny nose, headache, facial tenderness or pain and discolored mucus

4. Allergies/Irritants

Sometimes, you may have a sore throat even when you’re not sick. If you’re exposed to a substance that irritates your throat, your throat may feel sore or scratchy. Common throat irritants include pollen, cigarette smoke, chemical fumes and animal dander.

If your sore throat is caused by allergies or irritants, your symptoms may go away once the allergen or irritant is removed. But if you are exposed to the allergen or irritant every day, your sore throat may persist. People with allergies may need to be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in treating this condition.

Allergy symptoms may include dry cough, raspy voice, dry or scratchy throat, runny nose and watery eyes

Possible Health Conditions Related to Sore Throat


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD) is also known as acid reflux. This condition occurs when the muscles at the base of your esophagus don’t contract properly. If you have GERD, stomach acid may rise up into your esophagus and cause a burning sensation in your throat.[7]

GERD symptoms may include:

  • Burning chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Raspy voice
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Foul or acidic taste in mouth
  • Pain that worsens when you lie down
  • Pain that worsens after eating

Throat Injury

An injury to the neck or throat may sometimes cause a sore throat. A blow to the neck area can make your throat feel sore for a few days. If your injury is a minor one, your symptoms may resolve on their own without any special treatment. However, an injury to the throat can sometimes be dangerous and medical attention should be sought immediately.

Throat injury symptoms may include:

  • Severe bruising around the throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Vocal Strain

You may develop a sore throat if you have recently strained or overworked your voice. Actors, singers and public speakers often experience sore throats after performing.[8] If you have strained your voice, you may temporarily either lose your voice or your voice may sound raspy.

Most people recover from vocal strain without treatment. See a doctor if your voice doesn’t return to normal after a few days.


In rare cases, a sore throat can be caused by cancer. Throat cancer is often caused by smoking or tobacco use.[9] Cancer is a serious condition that requires medical treatment. If you suspect you might have cancer, see a doctor right away.

Common throat cancer symptoms may include:[10]

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Neck or ear pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swollen glands

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

A sore throat may be caused by COVID-19.[11] This strain of coronavirus is a contagious respiratory virus that spreads from person to person, and that causes a variety of mild to severe symptoms similar to those caused by the flu. A sore throat caused by COVID-19 may occur with other symptoms including:

  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

There are no medications approved by the FDA to specifically treat COVID-19.[12] The most effective way to avoid contracting COVID-19 is to minimize exposure to the virus, which can be accomplished by washing hands often, practicing social distancing, wearing a face covering, and spending time only with the people in your household.

Treatments for Sore Throat

At-home remedies for a sore throat include the following:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to maintain proper hydration. Plus, hot fluids like tea (especially tea with honey or marshmallow root) and soup help lighten throat irritation
  • Gargling warm salt water to help reduce swelling and relieve discomfort. Gargling a solution of apple cider vinegar and water has also been known to help break down mucus in the throat and stop bacteria from spreading
  • Eating or sucking on garlic cloves. While it might give you bad breath, garlic has natural antibacterial properties and helps to fight off infections
  • Using a humidifier, as the warm, damp air may help soothe swollen air passages
  • Avoiding smoking or drinking alcohol
  • Getting plenty of rest

Although, sometimes, like when your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, prescription medication is needed to treat your sore throat. If your sore throat lasts for more than a few days, it's best to get checked out by a doctor to assess all your symptoms as you may need antibiotics or other medications to ease the pain and swelling.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Your Sore Throat

  • Have you been exposed to anyone who is sick?
  • Have you had a fever over the last few days?
  • How severe is your sore throat?
  • Has your sore throat gotten better or worse over time?
  • Is there anything that makes your symptoms better?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?
  • Did you recently attend a large gathering or event?
  • Have you recently been in close proximity to anyone outside of your household?

Sore Throat May Also Be Known As

  • Pharyngitis
  • Acute pharyngitis
  • Inflamed throat
  • Irritated throat
  • Scratchy throat
  • Dry throat
  • Raw throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Swollen glands
  • Painful swallowing
  • Harsh swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarse or raspy throat/voice

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