Health Library

Sore Throat

Definition

A sore throat is swelling and inflammation in the throat. Common types are:

  • Pharyngitis—affects the back of the throat and tongue
  • Tonsillopharyngitis—affects the throat and the tonsils
Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
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Causes

Many things can cause a sore throat. They may be:

  • Viral infections such as the flu, mononucleosis, and the common cold
  • Bacterial infections such as strep throat
  • Mucus that drains from the sinuses
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking
  • Breathing polluted air
  • Seasonal or other allergies
  • Acid reflux
  • Pieces of food collecting in the tonsils
  • Certain immune or inflammatory problems

Risk Factors

Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Things that raise the risk are:

  • Being near someone with an infection involving the throat or nose
  • Being exposed to:
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Toxic fumes
    • Industrial smoke
    • Air pollution
  • Having seasonal or other allergies
  • Having immune system problems, such as HIV infection or cancer

Symptoms

Other symptoms may occur with the sore throat. They may be:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • Hoarse voice, cough, or problems breathing
  • Red or irritated-looking throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • White patches on or near the tonsils

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. This involves looking at the mouth, throat, nose, ears, and lymph nodes in the neck.

Tests may include:

  • Rapid strep test or throat culture—swabbing the throat to check for strep throat
  • Blood tests—to check for causes of the sore throat
  • Mono spot test—to check for mononucleosis

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may be:

  • Medicines to ease symptoms, such as:
    • Antibiotics—for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection
    • Throat lozenges
    • Decongestants and antihistamines—to ease a stuffy or runny nose
    • Numbing throat spray
    • Corticosteroids—to ease discomfort or help breathing, if there is trouble
  • Self-care such as rest and lots of fluids

Prevention

To reduce the risk of a sore throat:

  • Wash hands often
  • Stay away from people who are sick

Resources

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
https://www.healthychildren.org

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
https://www.niaid.nih.gov

Canadian Resources

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology
http://www.entcanada.org

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

References

Pharyngitis - Approach to the Patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/pharyngitis-approach-to-the-patient-25. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Sore throat. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/sore-throat. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Sore throat. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/health/sore-throat-leaflet. Accessed January 29, 2021.

The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Throat problems. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/symptom/throat-problems. Accessed January 29, 2021.

Vazquez MN, Sanders JE. Diagnosis and management of group A streptococcal pharyngitis and associated complications. Pediatr Emerg Med Pract. 2017;14(12):1-20