Definition

A sore throat is the general name for two 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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    Causes

    Many things can cause a sore throat, such as:

        
  • Infection with a virus, such as the viruses that cause influenza (the flu), herpangina, and the common cold
  • Infection with bacteria, such as the bacteria that cause strep throat
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Mucus from your sinuses that drains into your throat
  • Smoking
  • Breathing polluted air
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages
  • Hay fever or other allergies
  • Acid reflux from the stomach
  • Food debris collecting in small pockets in the tonsils
  • Certain immune or inflammatory disorders
  • Risk Factors

    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 nose
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke, toxic fumes, industrial smoke, and other air pollutants
  • Having hay fever or other allergies
  • Having other conditions that affect your immune system, such as HIV infection or cancer
  • Symptoms

    Along with the sore throat, you may have other symptoms, such as:

        
  • Pain or difficulty when swallowing
  • Runny nose or stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck
  • Hoarse voice
  • Red or irritated-looking throat
  • Swollen tonsils
  • White patches on or near your tonsils
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • When Should I Call My Doctor?

    Call your doctor if you:

        
  • Experience a worsening of your sore throat or the symptom lasts longer than you or your doctor expect
  • Have 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 neck
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Earache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Fatigue
  • Blood 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 medical help right away.

    Diagnosis

    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 mouth
  • Gently touching the lymph nodes (glands) in your neck to check for swelling
  • Taking your temperature
  • The doctor will ask questions about:     
  • Your family and medical history
  • Recent exposure to someone with strep throat 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 throat
  • Blood tests—to identify some conditions that may be causing the sore throat
  • Mono spot test—if mononucleosis is suspected
  • Treatment

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

    Medications

        
  • 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 infection
  • Throat lozenges
  • Decongestants and antihistamines to relieve nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Numbing throat spray for pain control in older children and adults, although the relief is very short-lived
  • Corticosteroids if there is trouble breathing
  • Home Care

    Self-care steps you can do at home:

        
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Try warm liquids (tea or broth), or cool liquids
  • Gargle with warm saline several times a day
  • Avoid irritants that might affect your throat, such as tobacco smoke and cold air
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Prevention

    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.