Signs and Symptoms of a Sore Throat
- Joint pain and muscle aches
- Skin rash
- Swollen lymph glands in the neck
- Prolonged sore throat (more than a week to 10 days)
- Breathing difficulties
- Swallowing difficulties or pain with swallowing
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Swelling of the face or neck
- Joint pain
- Fever over 101 degrees F
- Blood in saliva or phlegm
- Lump in the neck
- Hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks
Causes and Risk Factors of Sore Throat
Pharyngitis is caused by swelling in the pharynx, the anatomical structure that is between the tonsils and the larynx.
The illness usually spreads between people by breathing in air that contains these organisms or by touching a surface with germs on it.
- Straining your throat muscles
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Tumors of the throat, tongue, or larynx (voice box)
- Cold and flu seasons
- Having close contact with someone who has a sore throat or cold
- Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
- Frequent sinus infections
- Attending day care
- Age (children and teens are more likely to develop sore throat or strep throat)
- Weakened immunity due to conditions such as HIV or diabetes, or treatment with chemotherapy drugs or chronic steroids, which can lower resistance to infections
When a Sore Throat Is Chronic
"A sore throat accompanied by a swollen neck gland should be seen by a physician soon," says Toribio Flores, MD, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for the Cleveland Clinic's Head and Neck Institute at the Independence Family Health Center in Ohio.
How Is Pharyngitis Diagnosed?
Diagnosing the underlying cause of a sore throat is key to determining how it should be treated.
Your doctor will most likely start by taking your medical history and then will give you a physical exam that may involve checking your temperature; looking at your throat, ears, and nose with a lighted instrument; checking your neck for swollen glands (lymph nodes); and listening to your breathing with a stethoscope.
If the rapid in-clinic test comes back positive, then you almost certainly have a bacterial infection (i.e., strep throat). If the test comes back negative, then you likely have a viral infection.
If your doctor suspects that your sore throat is related to an allergy, you may be referred to an allergist for additional tests. If you experience chronic or frequent sore throat, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor).
Prognosis of Sore Throat
Duration of a Sore Throat
Treatment and Medication Options for Sore Throat
Your doctor may prescribe medications for a sore throat, depending on the underlying health condition causing it.
If your sore throat is associated with the flu, antiviral medicines may be effective.
Antiviral medications can shorten the length of the illness and make symptoms milder. They can also reduce your risk of flu complications, which is why these drugs are often recommended for people who are at a high risk, such as children, older adults, and people with certain preexisting conditions. Antivirals for influenza need to be started within 48 hours of symptom onset for the greatest impact.
Amoxicillin is considered to be a broader-spectrum antibiotic, so it will kill more bacteria than penicillin.
Home Remedies for Sore Throat
- Getting rest
- Avoiding alcohol
- Quitting smoking
- Drinking warm liquids, such as lemon tea or tea with honey
- Gargling with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water) throughout the day
- Drinking cold liquids or sucking on fruit-flavored ice pops
- Sucking on hard candies or throat lozenges (for adults only)
- Running a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier
Prevention of Sore Throat
- Wash your hands well; when soap and water aren't an option, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, ideally with at least 60 percent alcohol for maximal effect.
- Do not share food, drinks, or utensils.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, dispose of it, then wash your hands.
- Clean surfaces you touch frequently such as telephones, TV remotes, and computer keyboards with sanitizer. If you travel, wipe down the phone and remote in your hotel room.
- Maintain a physical distance from people you know are sick.
- Keep any child diagnosed with strep throat out of school or day care until they've been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours and symptoms have improved.
Complications of a Sore Throat
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
- Abscesses near the tonsils
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
- Rarely, rheumatic fever (a heart disease) or acute kidney injury due to inflammation of the kidney (post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis)
Research and Statistics: Who Gets a Sore Throat?
COVID-19 and Sore Throat
Sore throat is one of the initial symptoms of COVID-19 that may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus. COVID-19 shares many symptoms with the flu, and it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two based only on symptoms. But testing can confirm a diagnosis.
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
- Coughing up blood or blood-tinged mucous
Related Conditions of Sore Throat
Sore Throat With a Cold or the Flu
Common cold symptoms typically develop about one to three days after exposure to cold-causing viruses. Flu symptoms are typically more severe than those of the common cold.
Since colds and the flu are caused by viruses, rather than bacteria, antibiotics are not an effective treatment option. There is no cure for a cold, though over-the-counter medications may ease symptoms.
Learn More About Colds and the Flu
Strep throat is a bacterial infection (caused by Streptococcus pyogenes, also known as group A strep) that is common in school-age children, but it’s not the most common cause of a sore throat. Viral infections are much more common.
Resources We Love
Developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, this site is a go-to when it comes to conditions involving the ear, nose, throat, and head and neck. ENT Health covers all the basics of sore throat, as well as related conditions, questions to ask your doctor, and how to find an ENT specialist.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A trusted source, especially for info on infectious diseases, the CDC provides comprehensive, up-to-date coverage of the signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, causes, and prevention of sore throat.
This site, from the American Academy of Family Physicians, offers a wealth of medical advice for adults and children, including a section on sore throat. While it's no substitute for consulting with your healthcare provider, there's a Symptom Checker that allows you to select a symptom, answer several yes or no questions, and receive a possible diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics runs this site, a children's health source to find out how sore throat affects children, specifically, and when you should seek medical advice.
Additional reporting by Deborah Shapiro.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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