A sore throat, also known as pharyngitis
, is a common occurrence and is caused by an inflammation of the throat. It can be very painful, and you may feel a scratchiness and irritation, especially when you swallow or talk. There are many causes of sore throats.
Signs and symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms associated with a sore throat include:
Pain or scratchy feeling in your throat
Pain that worsens when talking or swallowing
Swollen glands in your neck or jaw area
Swollen or red tonsils
White patches on the tonsils
Depending on the cause of the sore throat, you may experience other symptoms, including fever, coughing, chills, and headache.
Causes and Common Triggers
Most sore throats are caused by viruses that are responsible for causing the common cold and the flu. Sometimes sore throats may be due to a bacterial infection such as strep throat. Other common causes may include:
Allergies (ie, pet dander and pollen)
Irritants such as smoking and pollution
A sore throat can also be the result of excessive coughing, yelling, or screaming.
Testing and Diagnosis
During an examination, your doctor will examine your throat and touch the area around your neck to check for swollen glands. Your doctor will also listen to your lungs. If strep throat is suspected, your doctor may do a simple test that requires obtaining a sample of throat secretions via swabbing the back of your throat. Your doctor may order a blood test if needed.
Because sore throats are typically caused by viruses or bacteria, practicing good hand-washing techniques with soap and warm water is one of the best ways for you to reduce or prevent getting a sore throat. Other preventive measures include:
Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are not available
Routinely cleaning environmental surfaces with disinfectants to minimize the spread of germs
Reducing exposure to allergens/irritants when possible
Using a humidifier to eliminate dryness in your home
Most sore throats resolve with minimal treatment and without complications. When recovering from a sore throat, it is important to stay hydrated to keep your throat moist. Drinking warm beverages such as broths or teas can help to ease the pain associated with sore throats. Furthermore, cold beverages, ice chips, or popsicles can also provide pain relief. Gargling periodically with saltwater rinse may also help ease sore throat pain.
Treatment and Care
A sore throat caused by a virus typically lasts a few days and only requires symptomatic relief if necessary. If the sore throat is due to a bacterial infection such as strep throat, your doctor will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic. It is important that you complete the entire course of therapy to prevent re-infection and discuss any concerns or adverse effects with your doctor. If the sore throat is due to something other than a viral or bacterial infection, your doctor will determine the best treatment for you. After reviewing your medical and medication history, your doctor may recommend the use of a nonprescription analgesic such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen for pain relief.
Homeopathic and Alternative Remedies
Many individuals may elect to use homeopathic or alternative remedies for the relief of sore throats. Many of these therapies are available as teas, sprays, and lozenges, and they may include the following ingredients:
Prior to using these therapies, you should always check with your doctor or pharmacist to ascertain the appropriateness of use, especially if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or taking any other medications, or if you have any other medical conditions.
Several nonprescription products are formulated to provide symptomatic relief of the pain and discomfort associated with sore throats. Various anesthetic and antiseptic lozenges, sprays, and orally disintegrating strips can be used to relieve sore throat pain. In addition, when appropriate, you may also use OTC analgesics for pain relief.
Before using any medication, it is important to check with your primary health care provider, especially if you are taking any other medications or have any pre-existing medical conditions. If your sore throat shows signs of worsening or infection, you should seek medical care immediately.
Resources for Patients
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Resources for Pharmacists
National Institutes of Health
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
Mount Sinai Hospital