What is a Sore Throat?

A sore throat usually involves pain, irritation, or itchiness of the throat area. The symptoms are usually exasperated during swallowing. Viral infections are the most common cause of sore throats and can typically be resolved on their own after a few days with or without medication. Bacterial infections, especially strep throat, are less common than viral infections, and will typically require treatment with antibiotics.

Causes of Sore Throats

The most common causes of sore throats are infections, injuries, and environmental factors, including those listed below:

  • Infections such as common colds, the flu, mononucleosis, and chickenpox
  • Environmental irritants such as smoke, chemicals, air pollutants, or cleaning products
  • Allergies such as those from pollen or pet dander
  • Bacterial infections such as strep throat, tonsillitis
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or HIV
  • Low humidity air
  • Cancer or a tumor of the throat, tongue, or voice box
  • GERD or recurring acid reflux
  • Recurring sinus infections that cause nasal drainage to seep into the throat
  • Being around or spreading germs from others who are sick

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Sore Throats

Depending on the various causes of your sore throat, the symptoms can vary. Some of the more common symptoms of sore throat can include the following:

  • Pain or scratchiness in the throat that worsens when swallowing
  • A feeling of a swollen throat or tonsils
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • A raspy or hoarse voice

The most common cause of sore throats are related to both viral and bacterial infections. Symptoms from these infections that are usually present with the sore throat symptoms often include:

  • Coughing, wheezing, and sneezing
  • Stuffy and runny nose
  • Headache
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Body aches

The goal when diagnosing sore throats is to determine the underlying cause of the sore throat. Your ENT specialist will review your history of symptoms and perform a physical examination. The physical examination will usually involve using a light or lighted mirror to examine the throat, mouth, and tonsil areas. Your ENT specialist may take a sample using a swab from your throat area to confirm if you are affected by strep throat.

Treatments for Sore Throats

Sore throats that are the result of viral infections will generally last about one week and will rarely require prescription medication. Over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen will usually ease the pain symptoms.

For bacterial infections, your ENT specialist will normally prescribe antibiotics. If prescribed antibiotics, you should always complete the full course or schedule of the prescription, or as advised by your doctor, to prevent the infection from returning.


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