A sore throat is the general name for 2 common conditions: Pharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx (the back of the throat, including the back of the tongue)Tonsillopharyngitis—swelling and inflammation of the pharynx and the tonsils (soft tissue that makes up part of the throat's immune defenses)
Sore Throat Due to Inflammation
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Many things can cause a sore throat, such as:
Infection with a virus, such as the viruses that cause
the flu, herpangina, and the
Infection with bacteria, such as those that cause
mononucleosisMucus from your sinuses that drains into your throatSmokingBreathing polluted airDrinking alcoholic beveragesHay fever
or other allergies
from the stomach
Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsilsCertain immune or inflammatory disorders
Sore throats are more common children, teens, or people aged 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a sore throat include: Exposure to someone with a sore throat or any other infection involving the throat or noseExposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
or other allergies
Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as
Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms, such as: Pain or difficulty when swallowingRunny nose or stuffy noseFeverEnlarged lymph nodes in your neckHoarse voiceRed or irritated-looking throatSwollen tonsilsWhite patches on or near your tonsilsCoughDifficulty breathing
Call your doctor if you: Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expectHave difficulty swallowing or breathing
Have developed other symptoms, such as:
White patches on tonsils (may be a sign of strep throat)Enlarged lymph nodes on your neckRashFeverEaracheLightheadednessNausea or vomitingMuscle or joint achesFatigueBlood in saliva
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests calling your child's doctor if your child has a sore throat that goes on for more than 1 day (no matter what other symptoms are present).
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Your doctor will do a physical exam. This involves looking closely at your mouth, throat, nose, ears, and the lymph nodes in your neck.
This physical exam may include:
Using a small instrument to look inside the nose, ears, and mouthGently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swellingTaking your temperature
The doctor will ask questions about:
Your family and medical historyRecent exposure to someone with
or any other infection of the throat, nose, or ears
Other tests include:
Rapid strep test or throat culture—using a cotton swab to touch the back of the throat to check for strep throatBlood tests—to identify some conditions that may be causing the sore throat
Mono spot test—if mononucleosis is suspected
Treatment depends on the cause of the sore throat. Options may include:
Pain relievers or fever reducers
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.Antibiotics for a sore throat caused by a bacterial infectionThroat lozengesDecongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny noseNumbing throat spray for pain control in older children and adults, although the relief is very short-livedCorticosteroids if there is trouble breathing
Self-care steps you can do at home: Get plenty of restDrink plenty of fluidsTry warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquidsGargle with warm saline several times a dayAvoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold airAvoid drinking alcohol
To help reduce your chance of a sore throat: Wash your hands frequently. Do this especially after blowing your nose or after caring for a child with a sore throat.If someone in your home has a sore throat, keep their eating utensils and drinking glasses separate from those of other family members. Wash these objects in hot, soapy water.If a toddler with a sore throat has been sucking on toys, wash the toys in soap and water.Immediately get rid of used tissues, and then wash your hands.If you have hay fever or another respiratory allergy, see your doctor. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.
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http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/sore-throat.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Sore throat. Patient UK website. Available at:
http://www.patient.co.uk/health/sore-throat-leaflet. Accessed November 20, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2014
The difference between a sore throat, strep and tonsillitis. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at:
http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/The-Difference-Between-a-Sore-Throat-Strep-and-Tonsillitis.aspx. Updated May 28, 2014. Accessed September 29, 2014.
Throat problems. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/throat-problems.html. Accessed September 29, 2014.
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Last reviewed September 2016 by David Horn, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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