Sore Throat (Pharyngitis)
What is a sore throat?
A sore throat is a scratchy painful feeling in the back of your throat. If you have a sore throat, it may hurt to swallow or to talk. Many things cause sore throats, from bacterial and viral infections to allergies and sleeping with your mouth open. Most sore throat symptoms go away in a few days. You should contact a healthcare provider if your sore throat lasts longer than a week, gets worse or you develop symptoms like fever or swollen lymph nodes.
What does a sore throat feel like?
A sore throat may start with a raspy feeling in your throat, as if your throat is dry. It may also feel like your throat is on fire. If your sore throat gets worse, you may feel a sharp pain in your throat when you swallow or talk. You may feel pain in your ears or down the side of your neck.
Is a sore throat a serious issue?
It can be. For example, a sore throat that lasts more than two weeks may be a symptom of throat cancer. A sore throat is one symptom of COVID-19. Most of the time, however, a sore throat is a symptom of less serious conditions.
Symptoms and Causes
What are sore throat symptoms?
Apart from throat pain, sore throat symptoms may include:
- Upset stomach.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Nasal congestion (stuffy nose).
- Runny nose.
What causes sore throats?
Most sore throats happen because you have a viral infection, like the common cold or flu. Sore throats may be a symptom of the following conditions or issues:
- Bacterial infection: Strep throat and bacterial sinus infections are examples of bacterial infections that may cause sore throats.
- Allergies: Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, pets or mold can make your throat dry and scratchy. Sore throat from allergies results from postnasal drip (when mucus from your nose drips down the back of your throat). The mucus irritates your throat and causes pain.
- Tonsillitis: Tonsils are the two small lumps of soft tissue at the back of your throat. They trap the germs that make you sick. Tonsillitis occurs when your tonsils become infected and inflamed. Bacteria and viruses can cause tonsillitis.
- Acid reflux: People with a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) feel burning and pain in their throat. This pain, called heartburn, happens when acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus. Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach.
- Overuse or irritants: You can strain your throat by yelling or screaming. You may also develop a sore throat if you eat spicy food, smoke or drink very hot liquids.
- Mouth breathing: You may have a sore throat if you breathe through your mouth instead of your nose when you’re sleeping.
Diagnosis and Tests
How do healthcare providers diagnose sore throat?
Healthcare providers diagnose sore throats by examining your throat, tongue and possibly your ears. They may do a strep test to rule out strep throat.
Management and Treatment
How do healthcare providers treat sore throat?
Treatment depends on what caused your sore throat. For example, if your throat is sore because you have a cold, a healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter medication to ease your cold symptoms and for your sore throat. If you have strep throat, a healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection. Other treatments for specific causes may include:
- Over-the-counter antihistamine medication: Postnasal drip from allergies may cause sore throats. Antihistamines may dry postnasal drip.
- Over-the-counter antacids: Antacids may help with acid reflux that causes heartburn and sore throats. Other steps, like avoiding big meals right before bedtime, may help.
What can I do for my sore throat?
Sucking on throat lozenges or hard candies may ease sore throat symptoms. Other suggestions include:
- Drink warm liquids: Drinking tea with lemon and honey, broth or bouillon may help dry, scratchy throats.
- Apply ice: Sucking on ice chips or popsicles may help sore throat pain.
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer: Adding moisture to your environment, especially your bedroom when you’re sleeping, helps dry throats.
- Rest: If your throat is sore from shouting, screaming, singing or even talking a lot, resting your voice may help.
- Even more rest: Try to get as much rest as you can, including eight hours of sleep at night.
- Avoid irritants: Second-hand smoke, smoking, spicy foods and very hot liquids may irritate your sore throat. If you smoke, please try giving up cigarettes or cigars for a few days.
What can I do to make a sore throat go away quickly?
First, find out why you have a sore throat. If a healthcare provider finds a cold or flu is the culprit, ask for recommendations for getting better as quickly as possible.
How do I prevent developing a sore throat?
Viral infections like colds and flu often cause sore throats. You can reduce your sore throat by protecting yourself against colds and flu. Some ways to do that include:
- Washing your hands often, using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Avoid people who are sneezing and coughing.
- If you do spend time with people who are sneezing and coughing, avoid sharing food, drink or utensils.
- Be vaccinated against flu.
Outlook / Prognosis
What can I expect if I have a sore throat?
Most of the time, a sore throat isn’t a serious medical issue. Most sore throats go away within a few days. You should contact a healthcare provider if your sore throat lasts longer than a few days or if you have a sore throat and the following issues:
- Severe throat pain.
- Trouble breathing or swallowing.
- A fever, especially if it’s over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
- A visible bulge in the back of your throat.
- Blood in your saliva or phlegm.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Rash anywhere on your body.
How do I take care of myself?
Most sore throats happen because you have a viral or bacterial infection. Taking care of the infection will help your sore throat. You can ease sore throat symptoms by:
- Drinking a lot of fluid.
- Getting as much rest as possible.
- Using humidifiers or vaporizers.
- Avoiding irritants like second-hand smoke.
- Resting your voice.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Maybe your sore throat started with tickle in the back of your throat. Now that tickle is a pain — literally — and it hurts a lot when you swallow or talk. Most sore throats happen because you have a viral infection that will run its course in a week or so. But you may need antibiotics if your sore throat stems from a bacterial infection. Fortunately, there are many home remedies to ease sore throat pain. There are instances, however, when a sore throat may be a symptom of serious medical issue. If you have a sore throat that lasts for more than two weeks, talk to a healthcare provider.
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