How to cure chronic sore throat

Sore throats are very common and usually nothing to worry about. They normally get better by themselves within a week.

How to treat a sore throat yourself

To help soothe a sore throat and shorten how long it lasts, you can:

  • gargle with warm, salty water (children should not try this)
  • drink plenty of water
  • eat cool or soft foods
  • avoid smoking or smoky places
  • suck ice cubes, ice lollies or hard sweets – but do not give young children anything small and hard to suck because of the risk of choking
  • rest

If you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better.

How to gargle with salt water

  1. Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water (warm water helps salt dissolve).
  2. Gargle with the solution, then spit it out (do not swallow it).
  3. Repeat as often as you like.

Video: how to treat a sore throat

This video shows you how to treat a sore throat.

A pharmacist can help with sore throats

You can ask a pharmacist about ways of relieving the pain and discomfort of a sore throat, such as:

  • paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • medicated lozenges containing a local anaesthetic, antiseptic, or anti-inflammatory medicine
  • anaesthetic spray (although there’s little proof they help)

You can buy these treatments from a supermarket or from a pharmacist without a prescription.

Call your pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.


You do not normally need antibiotics for a sore throat because they will not usually relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

They’ll only be prescribed if a GP thinks you could have a bacterial infection.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your sore throat does not improve after a week
  • you often get sore throats
  • you’re worried about your sore throat
  • you have a sore throat and a very high temperature, or you feel hot and shivery
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of diabetes or chemotherapy

A severe or long-lasting sore throat could be something like strep throat (a bacterial throat infection).

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

You or your child:

  • have difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • are drooling – this can be a sign of not being able to swallow
  • are making a high-pitched sound as you breathe (called stridor)
  • have severe symptoms and are getting worse quickly

Sore throat symptoms

If you have a sore throat you might have:

  • a painful throat, especially when swallowing
  • a dry, scratchy throat
  • redness in the back of your mouth
  • bad breath
  • a mild cough
  • swollen neck glands

The symptoms are similar for children, but children can also get a temperature and appear less active.

Causes of sore throats

Sore throats are usually caused by viruses (like cold or flu) or from smoking. Very occasionally they can be caused by bacteria.

A sore throat can also be caused by:

  • laryngitis
  • tonsillitis
  • strep throat (a bacterial throat infection)
  • glandular fever

Page last reviewed: 05 February 2021
Next review due: 05 February 2024

A sore throat is a painful but common affliction that everyone suffers from on occasion. It may be the first sign of a cold, the result of strained vocal cords or a symptom of a more serious condition such as strep throat.


Symptoms of a sore throat include pain, scratchiness, dry throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, swollen neck or jaw glands and swollen or inflamed tonsils. You may also have a fever, chills, cough, runny nose, sneezing, headache, muscle and joint aches, nausea and vomiting.

Causes of Chronic Sore Throat

Most sore throats are the result of viral infections, often related to the common cold or flu. Bacterial infections can also lead to sore throats. Some of the more common ones include strep throat, tonsillitis, whooping cough and diphtheria.

A sore throat is considered chronic when it lasts for more than three months. Typical factors that can cause a long-lasting sore throat include allergies, acid reflux, environmental irritants, dry air and strained vocal cords. Occasionally a more serious condition, such as a tumor or HIV, can cause a sore throat.

Treatment & Prevention

Home remedies are often the most effective treatment method for a sore throat. Try gargling with warm salt water periodically throughout the day. Make sure you drink plenty of liquids, and use throat lozenges and cough drops to relieve soreness and irritation. A humidifier is often helpful. Over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants are beneficial at providing relief as well. If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, you will need to treat it with antibiotics.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing a sore throat in the future. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve and do not share food or utensils with others who are sick.

In order to treat a chronic sore throat, your physician must first determine the cause. The first step involves reviewing your medical history and completing a physical exam. Additional tests are often required to further narrow down the cause.

Contact Sacramento Ear, Nose & Throat for more information or to schedule an appointment.

What is Pharyngitis?

A sore throat (pharyngitis) is characterized by a scratchy, irritated throat that sometimes makes swallowing or breathing painful. The most common reason for chronic pharyngitis is a viral infection, such as a cold, which goes away on its own. When a sore throat does not go away on its own after about a week, it is considered a chronic condition and should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist.

What are the causes of a chronic sore throat?

A sore throat that won’t go away on its own could indicate a range of illnesses. Common sore throat causes include:

Viral infections

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • Measles
  • Chicken pox
  • Whooping cough
  • Croup

Bacterial infections

  • Tonsillitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Throat infection
  • Strep throat
  • Pneumonia

Some other underlying conditions that can cause a persistent sore throat include:

What Are Symptoms of Pharyngitis?

You may be suffering from a chronic sore throat and should seek advice from a New York ENT doctor if you experience any of the chronic pharyngitis symptoms below for more than about a week:

  • Scratchy or itchy sensation in throat
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Swollen glands in neck/jaw area
  • Hoarse or strained voice
  • Pain in the throat

Sometimes, a chronic sore throat indicates an infection. In these cases, you may also experience:

  • Headache
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing

What are the risk factors for a chronic sore throat?

Anyone is able to get a sore throat, but several factors may make you more likely to suffer from a chronic sore throat. These include:

  • Allergies
  • Older age
  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Poor air quality (second-hand smoke, chemicals, pollution, etc.)

When should I see a doctor about a sore throat?

Whenever a sore throat is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it is recommended by the Academy of Otolaryngology to see a doctor.

  • Extreme pain or soreness in throat
  • Sore throat that lasts over one week
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Lump on neck
  • Hoarse voice that lasts more than two weeks
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Joint pain
  • Trouble opening your mouth
  • Rash
  • Ear pain
  • Recurring sore throat

How is Pharyngitis Treated?

Your treatment will vary depending on the cause of the sore throat. If a viral infection is the cause, it will usually last about one week and will go away on its own. However, to relieve symptoms during the illness, patients can take over the counter pain relievers/fever reducers. If your sore throat is caused by a bacterial infection, you should see a doctor who can prescribe antibiotics to rid your body completely of the infection.

If your chronic sore throat is being caused by something other than viral or bacterial infection, or you are unable to figure out what is causing your sore throat, professional diagnosis and treatment by an ear, nose and throat specialist is recommended. At New York ENT, our doctors offer a wide range of treatments for chronic sore throat, depending on the underlying condition.

Sure, a sore throat can be annoying. But when your throat pain won’t let up, it could be a sign of a serious problem — one you should have checked out.

When you wake up in the morning and notice that a sore throat has come back — again — don’t just grab the lozenges and ignore it. If you have persistent throat pain, your body could be trying to tell you that something is wrong, and it’s a good idea to see your doctor for a diagnosis.

“It’s likely a viral or bacterial infection,” says Toribio Flores, MD, ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for the Cleveland Clinic’s Head and Neck Institute at Independence Health Center in Ohio.

A sore throat can take many forms — it can be scratchy or itchy, burn, or cause painful swallowing. Many times a sore throat is accompanied by a pesky cough which can irritate the tender throat even more. Many common colds and viruses can cause a sore throat that typically subsides within a few days. But when a sore throat persists and you can’t find relief, it’s something to take seriously.

Some possible causes of a chronic sore throat include:

  • Tonsillitis (infection of the tonsils)
  • Strep throat
  • Allergies
  • Mononucleosis (also referred to as mono)
  • Inhaling air pollutants
  • Smoking
  • Influenza (the flu)
  • Inhaling through the mouth instead of the nose

Some of these conditions, like the flu, may be fairly minor and not require treatment, while strep throat and tonsillitis can turn into serious health problems if left untreated.

“The ‘run of the mill’ strep throat and tonsillitis are more often seen by primary care physicians,” says Dr. Flores. “ENTs see the more complicated cases that don’t respond to standard treatment. Many of these people have infectious mononucleosis, or eventually need tonsillectomies.”

In addition, Flores notes that persistent throat pain on one side — or that feels worse on one side — may indicate a bacterial infection that usually begins as a complication of tonsillitis or untreated strep throat (peritonsillar abscess). In some cases, the pain may indicate an advanced tumor. “A sore throat accompanied by a swollen neck gland should be seen by a physician soon,” says Flores.

Other causes of a chronic sore throat, like smoking, are problems that you can control to alleviate your throat pain.

The Best Ways to Treat a Sore Throat

To successfully treat a sore throat, you have to know what’s causing it. Bacterial infections like strep throat need treatment with antibiotics. It’s crucial that you receive treatment for strep and don’t let it continue. This bacterial infection can lead to rheumatic fever, which can cause permanent heart damage. A simple course of antibiotics (remember to take them all) can keep strep throat from becoming a serious problem.

Viral infections, like influenza, may be treated with antiviral medication, but most do not require any treatment at all.

If you have allergies that are causing a chronic sore throat (through postnasal drip), your doctor may prescribe a medication to control allergy symptoms, such as nasal corticosteroids like Flonase (fluticasone). You can also find ways to avoid those allergens (often things like mold, pet dander, or pollen) to alleviate your throat pain and other symptoms.

Finding Relief From Throat Pain

No matter what’s causing a sore throat, you can take steps at home to soothe an itchy, scratchy, painful throat. Try these tips to relieve throat pain at home:

  • Suck on something soothing, like a piece of hard candy, a throat lozenge, or a Popsicle.
  • Stay hydrated and moisten the throat by drinking plenty of water and other fluids. Try adding honey to a warm drink or sip on a mug of warm tea.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Aleve (naproxen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Use in moderation and only for a short period of time.
  • Run a humidifier in your home to prevent dry air from irritating your throat.
  • Create a mixture of warm water and 1 teaspoon of salt per cup and gargle it a couple of times per day.

It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of a sore throat, but if it doesn’t get any better, you can be sure there’s some reason for it. “If the sore throat is accompanied by very severe pain on swallowing along with a high fever, it’s best to see a healthcare provider right away,” says Flores. See your doctor, figure out the cause, and decide on treatments and remedies that best fit your diagnosis.

Last Updated March 2021 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Robert “Chuck” Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP

Table of Contents

What is a sore throat?

A sore throat means that your throat hurts. It feels irritated or scratchy. You may feel mild discomfort or a burning pain. A sore throat may feel worse when you swallow. Possible complications from a sore throat include ear and sinus infections. Another complication is an abscess (buildup of pus) near your tonsils.

Symptoms of a sore throat

A sore throat means that your throat hurts and is irritated, swollen, or scratchy. It usually hurts worse when you swallow. Depending on the cause of your sore throat, symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • White spots on your throat or tonsils
  • Red, swollen tonsils
  • Swollen glands in your neck
  • Skin rash

In some cases, additional symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain (usually in children)
  • Vomiting (usually in children)
  • Joint or muscle pain

What causes a sore throat?

Most sore throats are caused by viruses, such as the cold or flu virus. Some of the more serious causes of sore throat include tonsillitis, strep throat, and mononucleosis (mono). Other causes include smoking, mouth breathing at night while you sleep, pollution, and allergies to pets, pollens and molds. General anesthesia during surgery can cause a sore throat.

How is a sore throat diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam. They will look at the back of your throat. Your doctor may swab the back of your throat. This is called a throat culture. It is done to collect a sample of bacteria. This also is used in a rapid strep test. This is a quick test to diagnose strep throat. The test won’t tell if your sore throat is caused by something other than strep. The results of a throat culture takes between 24 and 48 hours. If your doctor thinks you may have mono, they will probably do a blood test.

Can a sore throat be prevented or avoided?

The best way to avoid a sore throat is to avoid getting sick. Avoid catching or spreading the viruses and bacteria that cause a sore throat. Wash your hands regularly. Avoid touching your eyes or mouth. Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Sore throat treatment

If your sore throat is cause by the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicine. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses. Most sore throats caused by a cold or flu-type virus go away in a week to 10 days.

If your sore throat is caused by bacteria, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. You will feel better in a few days. It is important to take all of your antibiotics. This reduces the risk that your sore throat will return.

Symptoms caused by mono can last for 4 weeks or more. The treatment for mono is rest and reduced exercise.

If a sore throat is caused by allergies, your doctor may talk to you about allergy triggers. He or she may recommend medicine for the allergy.

If your sore throat is caused by tonsillitis, you may need an operation. This is called a tonsillectomy. The surgery removes your tonsils. Most people who have tonsillitis don’t need surgery. You might need surgery if you get severe tonsillitis often. You may need surgery if your tonsils are too big.

Living with a sore throat

Easing the pain of a sore throat is all you can do beyond treatment. The best remedies include:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine. This includes brand names such as Tylenol, Motrin, and Aleve. Do not give children younger than 18 aspirin. Aspirin may cause Reye’s syndrome. This can be fatal.
  • Gargle with warm salt water. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt with 1 cup of water and stir.
  • Suck on an over-the-counter throat lozenge. Hard candy works too.
  • Eat a popsicle.
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom. Move it to other rooms you spend time in.
  • Drink liquids to keep your throat from getting dry. Also, this helps prevent dehydration.

16 Best Sore Throat Remedies to Make You Feel Better Fast, According to Doctors

8/1/19 in Blog Posts

16 Best Sore Throat Remedies to Make You Feel Better Fast, According to Doctors

Some home remedies only mask pain—but these solutions can help you get rid of your sore throat completely.

Sore throat symptoms can be rough. Your saliva goes down like sandpaper, every cough makes you wince, and the only thing you can think about is making that lump in the back of your throat go away.

But to ease the pain, you need to understand what’s causing your sore throat in the first place: dry air, smoking, acid reflux, viral infections like the flu or common cold, and bacterial infections like strep can all lead to a sore throat.

In general, a viral infection usually comes with other symptoms, like muscle aches and fatigue, along with your sore throat, says Chester Griffiths MD, an otolaryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. With a bacterial infection, on the other hand, the pain is usually more focused on your throat and the soreness tends to be pretty severe, Dr. Griffiths says. You may also have intense pain when you swallow, along with a high fever.

Exposure to smoke, breathing in dry air, and having acid reflux tends to feel “very different” from an infection, says Jason Abramowitz, MD, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at ENT and Allergy Associates. “Usually patients do not feel as sick overall [and] the pain is also usually not as severe,” he says.

The good news: Sipping warm teaand sucking on cough drops or zinc lozenges can usually soothe the throat irritation and inflammation that are causing your agony, says Brett Comer, MD, a head and neck surgeon at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.

Still, some of your favorite home remedies may just be masking the pain—not actually resolving it. If you really want to get rid of a sore throat, reach for these best OTC cures next time you’re feeling achy.


How to Soothe Your Sore Throat

When you get a sore throat, the most likely cause is an infection from a virus like a cold or the flu. It usually goes away on its own in 3-7 days. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with that scratchy, raw feeling. Try these tactics to get some relief.

How You Treat It

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Acetaminophen or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can take the edge off many cold symptoms, including your sore throat. Make sure you follow the directions on the label.

If you have other medical problems or take other meds, check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs.

Deal with your nasal symptoms. Mucus from your sinuses can drain into your throat, adding to its soreness. If you have a runny nose or you’re stuffed up, an over-the-counter decongestant or antihistamine may help.

If hay fever is causing the drip of mucus into your throat, allergy treatments will ease your soreness, too.

Try a throat spray. Over-the-counter versions of these “numbing” products can help. Herbal sprays with echinacea and sage may also make you feel better.

Take zinc. If you have a cold, some studies show that you can ease symptoms if you take zinc lozenges every 2 hours. They seem to work best if you start to use them within 48 hours after you get sick.

Gargle with salt water. Swish warm, salty water in the back of your throat a few times a day to bring down swelling and ease pain. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon in 1/2 cup of warm water.

Keep Your Throat Moist

Sip plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. Warm drinks — not hot ones — can soothe your throat. Try broth or herbal tea with honey or lemon. Caffeinated drinks like coffee or soda may dehydrate you, so skip them.

Suck on a throat lozenge, crushed ice, ice pop, or a piece of hard candy to get your saliva flowing. Try a peppermint, since its main ingredient, menthol, thins mucus and helps break up it up.

A chronic sore throat is considered as any persistent throat irritation, itchiness, or pain that lasts for more than 3 months. While a sore throat is usually thought of as pain, even slight irritation or itchiness of the throat can cause a level of discomfort that may be described as ‘sore.’

Causes of a Chronic Sore Throat

The causes of a chronic sore throat may be due to an infection, chemical or mechanical injuries, or some other cause of persistent inflammation. Identifying the cause depends on the other signs and symptoms present, apart from a sore throat, as well as considering the patient’s medical history.

Other signs and symptoms that may accompany a chronic sore throat include:

  • Changes in the voice, especially hoarseness
  • Painful swallowing (odynophagia)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Chronic cough or constant clearing of the throat

Chronic Sore Throat Diagnosis

Diagnosing the underlying cause of a sore throat may require a neck x-ray, CT scan, or laryngoscopy.

Medical Conditions That Might Be Causing Signs and Symptoms

A child’s sore throat may be due to strep throat, sinusitis, tonsillitis, or all three at different times. Here is a simple breakdown of the three.

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused by any virus or bacteria. It can be acute or chronic. Infections that cause tonsillitis can travel and cause sinusitis.

Strep throat is a specific bacterial infection of the throat. It can be acute or recurring. Because it infects tissues of the throat, strep can cause tonsillitis.

Sinusitis is an infection of the sinuses caused by any virus or bacteria. It can be chronic or acute. Infections that cause sinusitis can travel and cause tonsillitis.

The tonsils are two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat–one tonsil on each side. They produce certain types of disease-fighting white blood cells and act as the immune system’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that enter the mouth.

Signs of Tonsillitis

Signs of tonsillitis include

  • Inflamed tonsils
  • Severe sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pus on the tonsils
  • Fever
  • Enlarged cervical lymph nodes

Signs of Strep

The signs of strep include

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Pus on the tonsils
  • Enlarged cervical lymph nodes

Doctors can easily test for strep using a throat swab and a quick in-office test.

Signs of Sinusitis

Sinusitis is more common in children with allergies, as their mucous membranes are constantly inflamed.

Signs of sinusitis include

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose with yellow, green or bloody mucus
  • Ear pain and infection
  • Pain and pressure around the sinuses

Since the sinuses and tonsils are close to each other, it’s common for the infection to travel between the two. Plus, the chronic infection in one can easily cause infection in the other.

Children are Susceptible to These Infections

Children are most susceptible to these types of infections because they have shorter airways which makes it easier, for example, for infection to spread from the sinuses to the tonsils.

Treatments for Chronic Sore Throat

For many children, as they get older their immune systems get stronger so they have fewer issues with a sore throat. But for other children whose chronic issues persist, they may need medical management or surgical intervention to relieve symptoms.

Medical management of symptoms may include prescribed medications such as antibiotics (for bacterial infections) or antihistamines. Surgical intervention may include a tonsillectomy (the surgical removal of tonsils). Surgery is usually recommended for children who have had frequent, recurring episodes. Frequency is defined as follows

  • More than seven episodes a year
  • More than five episodes a year in each of the preceding 2 years
  • More than three episodes a year in each of the preceding 3 years

Contact Us

If your child has been suffering from a chronic sore throat, contact Integrated ENT at (303) 706-1616 to schedule a consultation for evaluation and treatment.

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Know the warning signs when to call the doctor if your sore throat persists

Not only are sore throats painful, but they also are one of the top reasons for doctor visits and sick days.

It starts as a persistent tickle in the back of your throat before the sensation progresses into a prickly sensation every time you swallow. The trick to treating a sore throat is knowing when it’s time to make the transition from at-home therapy to seeing the doctor.

“A sore throat can be caused by any number of factors, including a common cold, low humidity, smoking, air pollution, yelling, or nasal drainage,” says Brett M. Scotch, DO, an osteopathic physician from Wesley Chapel, Florida.

There are other less common causes for a sore throat, which can include strep throat, mononucleosis (otherwise known as “mono”) or tonsillitis.

Home treatment

When it come to treating a sore throat, you can try:

  • Gargling at least once an hour with warm salt water to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Drinking hot fluids such as tea or soup, which soothe the throat and help thin sinus mucus allowing for better drainage and decreased stuffiness.
  • Stopping smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Taking nonprescription medications, such as throat lozenges, decongestants, acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

Seeing a physician

In most cases, your sore throat will improve with at-home treatment. However, it’s time to see your doctor if a severe sore throat and a fever over 101 degrees lasts longer than one to two days; you have difficulty sleeping because your throat is blocked by swollen tonsils or adenoids; or a red rash appears.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it could mean that you have a bacterial infection. In that case, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to treat your infection.

“For adults who have repeated bacterial throat infections within a relatively short period of time, a physician may recommend a tonsillectomy,” says Dr. Scotch.

Your doctor may recommend a tonsillectomy (the surgical removal of the tonsils) if:

  • Abscesses of the tonsils do not respond to drainage.
  • There is a persistent foul odor or taste in the mouth that does not respond to antibiotics.
  • A biopsy is needed to evaluate a suspected tumor of the tonsil.

“However, a tonsillectomy should always be the last resort for treating sore throats,” warns Dr. Scotch. “The best treatment for a sore throat is prevention.”


You can prevent a sore throat by replacing your toothbrush every month and tossing an old toothbrush once you’ve recovered from a sore throat to prevent re-infection. You should also refrain from smoking, which can be abrasive to the throat.

“Be sure to wash your hands often, eat right and get plenty of sleep,” advises Dr. Scotch. ​​​​

Sore throats happen to everyone now and then. When you have a sore throat, this can affect speaking, swallowing, or breathing.

Infections from viruses or bacteria are the main cause of sore throats, but allergies and sinus infections can also contribute. Some sore throats are worse than others. If you have a sore throat that lasts for more than five to ten days, you should see your doctor.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sore Throat?

Whenever a sore throat is severe, lasts longer than the usual five- to ten-day duration of a cold or flu, and is not associated with an avoidable allergy or irritation, you should seek medical attention. The following signs and symptoms should alert you to see your physician:

  • Severe and prolonged sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening the mouth
  • Swelling of the face or neck
  • Joint pain
  • Earache
  • Rash
  • Fever (over 101°F)
  • Blood in saliva or phlegm
  • Frequently recurring sore throat
  • Lump in neck
  • Hoarseness lasting over two weeks

Infections by contagious viruses or bacteria are the source of most sore throats. Other potential causes include:

Viruses—Sore throats often accompany viral infections, including the flu, colds, measles, chicken pox, croup, or mononucleosis (mono). Mono has the longest duration of symptoms, such as sore throat and extreme fatigue, and can last several weeks. Other symptoms include swollen glands in the neck, armpits, and groin; fever, chills, headache, or sometimes, serious breathing difficulties.

Bacterial infections—Strep throat is an infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria. This infection can also cause scarlet fever, tonsillitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections. Symptoms of strep throat often include fever (greater than 101°F), white draining patches on the throat, and swollen or tender lymph glands in the neck. Children may have a headache and stomach pain.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by Bordetella pertussis bacteria. This infection can bring about violent, uncontrollable coughing, making it hard to breathe and causing you to make a “whooping” sound. Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, but can be especially serious, even deadly, for babies less than one-year-old.

Epiglottitis—Epiglottitis is the most dangerous throat infection, because it causes swelling that closes the airway and requires prompt emergency medical attention. Suspect it when swallowing is extremely painful (causing drooling), when speech is muffled, and when breathing becomes difficult. Epiglottitis is often not seen just by looking in the mouth.

Allergies—You may also be allergic to pollens, molds, animal dander, and/or house dust, for examples, which can lead to a sore throat.

Irritation—Dry heat, dehydration, chronic stuffy nose, pollutants, car exhaust, chemical exposure, or straining your voice are examples of irritations that can lead to a sore throat.

Reflux—Reflux occurs when you regurgitate stomach contents up into the throat. You may notice this often in the morning when you first wake up. Reflux that goes into the throat is called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).

Tumors—Tumors of the throat, tongue, and larynx (voice box) can cause a sore throat with pain going up to the ear. Other important symptoms can include hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, noisy breathing, a lump in the neck, unexplained weight loss, and/or spitting up blood in the saliva or phlegm.

A mild sore throat associated with cold or flu symptoms can be made more comfortable with the following remedies:

  • Increase your liquid intake.
  • Drink warm tea with honey (a favorite home remedy).
  • Use a personal steamer or place a humidifier in your bedroom.
  • Gargle with warm salt water several times daily: ¼ tsp salt to ½ cup water.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol Sore Throat ® , Tempra ® ) or ibuprofen (Motrin IB ® , Advil ® ).

For a more severe sore throat, your doctor may want to do a throat culture—swabbing the inside of your throat to see if there is a bacterial infection. If it is negative, your physician will base their treatment recommendation on the severity of your symptoms and the appearance of your throat on examination.

If you have a bacterial infection your doctor will likely recommend an antibiotic (such as penicillin or erythromycin) that kills or impairs bacteria. Antibiotics do not cure viral infections, but viruses do lower the patient’s resistance to bacterial infections. When a combined infection like this happens, antibiotics may be recommended.

It is important to take an antibiotic as your physician directs and to finish all doses, even if your symptoms improve, otherwise the infection may not be gone and could return. Some patients will experience returning infections despite antibiotic treatment. If you experience this, it is important to discuss this situation with your physician.

You may also want to review these sore throat prevention tips.