Sore throats can be painful and annoying. Fortunately, most sore throats are caused by a minor illness and go away without medical treatment.
Several conditions can cause a sore throat.
Many sore throats are caused by a viral illness, such as:
- The common cold, the most common type of viral infection.
- Infection of the voice box (laryngitis).
- Mononucleosis (mono, "the kissing disease"), a viral infection that tends to cause a persistent sore throat.
- Other viral infections, such as mumps, herpangina, or influenza.
A bacterial infection may also cause a sore throat. This can occur from:
- Strep throat , which usually does not occur with congestion or a cough.
- An inflammation or infection of the tonsils (tonsillitis) and sometimes the adenoids (adenoiditis).
- Inflammation of the epiglottis (epiglottitis).
- Inflammation of the uvula (uvulitis).
- In rare cases, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. If you have engaged in high-risk sexual behavior, consider whether gonorrhea or chlamydia may be present. For more information, see the topic Exposure to Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Irritants and injuries
A sore throat that lasts longer than a week is often caused by irritants or an injuries, such as:
- Throat irritation from low humidity, smoking, air pollution, yelling, or nasal drainage down the back of the throat (postnasal drip).
- Breathing through the mouth when you have allergies or a stuffy nose.
- Stomach acid that backs up into the throat, which may be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although GERD often occurs with heartburn, an acid taste in the mouth, or a cough, sometimes a sore throat is the only symptom.
- An injury to the back of the throat, such as a cut or puncture from falling with a pointed object in the mouth.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome , a condition that causes extreme tiredness.
Treatment for a sore throat depends on the cause. You may be able to use home treatment to obtain relief.
Because viral illnesses are the most common cause of a sore throat, it is important not to use antibiotics to treat them. Antibiotics do not alter the course of viral infections. Unnecessary use of an antibiotic exposes you to the risks of an allergic reaction and antibiotic side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, and yeast infections. Antibiotics also may kill beneficial bacteria and encourage the development of dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
For more information, see:
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
|Decision Points focus on key medical care decisions that are important to many health problems.|
|Sore throat: Should I take antibiotics?|
Home treatment is usually all that is needed for a sore throat caused by a virus. These tips may help you feel better.
- Gargle with warm salt water to help reduce
swelling and relieve discomfort:
- Gargle at least once each hour with 1 tsp (5 g) of salt dissolved in 8 fl oz (240 mL) of warm water.
- If you have postnasal drip, gargle often to prevent more throat irritation.
- Prevent dehydration. Fluids may help thin secretions and soothe an irritated throat. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help decrease throat irritation.
- Use a
vaporizer or humidifier in your bedroom.
- Warm or cool mist may help you feel more comfortable by soothing the swollen air passages. It may also relieve hoarseness. But don't let your room become uncomfortably cold or very damp.
- Use a shallow pan of water to provide moisture in the air through evaporation if you don't have a humidifier. Place the pan in a safe location where no one will trip on it or fall into it.
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products and avoid secondhand smoke. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
- If you suspect that problems with stomach acid may be causing your sore throat, see the topic Heartburn.
Consider taking nonprescription medicine for your symptoms.
- Use nonprescription throat lozenges.
- Some nonprescription throat lozenges, such as Sucrets Maximum Strength or Spec-T, are safe and effective and have medicine (local anesthetic) that numbs the throat to soothe pain.
- Regular cough drops may also help.
- Use a
- Decongestants make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose, allowing air to pass through. They also help relieve a runny nose and postnasal drip, which can cause a sore throat.
- Decongestants can be taken orally or used as decongestant nasal sprays. Oral decongestants (pills) are probably more effective and provide longer relief but may cause more side effects.
- Don't give decongestants to a child younger than 2 unless you've checked with the doctor first. If your child’s doctor tells you to give a medicine, be sure to follow what he or she tells you to do.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
Additional home treatment can be found in topics related to sore throat.
- If you suspect allergies are causing your symptoms, see the topic Allergic Reaction or Allergic Rhinitis.
- If you have laryngitis, see laryngitis.
- If your sore throat is caused by sores in your mouth, see the topic Mouth Problems, Noninjury.
Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment
Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Difficulty breathing develops.
- Severe pain develops.
- Inability to drink enough fluids develops.
- A new rash or fever develops.
- Signs of dehydration are present.
- A persistent sore throat or fever develops.
- Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
There is no sure way to prevent a sore throat. To help reduce your risk:
- Drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Wash your hands often, especially when you are around people who are sick.
- Identify and avoid irritants, such as smoke, fumes, or yelling, that cause a sore throat.
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
- Avoid contact with people who have strep throat.
- If you have mononucleosis, do not share eating or drinking utensils to prevent spreading the virus to others. A brief kiss on the lips is not likely to spread mono; it is spread when saliva from an infected person enters another person's mouth.
Preparing For Your Appointment
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being ready to answer the following questions:
- When did your throat symptoms begin?
- Do you have a fever? Describe your fever pattern.
- Do other family members, friends, or coworkers have similar complaints?
- Do you have other symptoms associated with the sore throat, such as a head cold?
- What makes the pain worse?
- Have you had your tonsils removed?
- Have you been diagnosed with strep throat in the past? How long ago? Was it found during a doctor visit, with a rapid strep test or with a throat culture? How was it treated?
- What home treatment have you tried? Did it help?
- What prescription and nonprescription medicines have you tried? Did they help?
- Do you have any health risks?
|Author||Jan Nissl, RN, BS|
|Editor||Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA|
|Associate Editor||Tracy Landauer|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||David Messenger, MD|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Last Updated||February 25, 2010|