A sore throat is pain, scratchiness, or irritation of the throat that often worsens when you swallow. The most common cause of a sore throat (pharyngitis) is a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu. A sore throat caused by a virus resolves on its own. It rarely requires any medical intervention.
Most sore throats are caused by infections or environmental factors like dry air. Although a sore throat can be uncomfortable, it’ll usually go away on its own.
Pain in the throat is one of the most common symptoms. It accounts for more than 13 million visits to doctor’s offices each year.
Strep throat (streptococcal infection), a less common type of sore throat caused by bacteria, requires antibiotic treatment to prevent complications. Other less common causes of a sore throat might require more complex treatment.
Either injury or infection may cause sore throats. Here are eight of the most common sore throat causes.
Colds, the Flu, and Other Viral Infections
Most viruses affect the entire body. One in particular that almost everyone commonly experiences is a sore throat. Sore throats due to viral infections are less intense and more of a general discomfort. Oftentimes, the discomfort and irritation come from postnasal drip (secretions from the nose that drain down into the throat).
Strep throat and Other Bacterial Infections
Bacterial infections can also cause sore throats. The most common one is strep throat, an infection of the throat and tonsils caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria.
Strep throat causes nearly 40 percent of sore throat cases in children. Tonsillitis and sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia can also cause a sore throat.
Sore throats due to bacterial infections are much more intense, and even swallowing water can be challenging. If you have this type of sore throat, you must visit a family doctor for antibiotic treatment.
When the immune system reacts to allergy triggers like pollen, grass, and pet dander, it releases chemicals that cause symptoms like nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, and throat irritation.
Excess mucus in the nose can drip down the back of the throat. This is called postnasal drip and can irritate the throat.
Dry air can suck moisture from the mouth and throat and leave them feeling dry and scratchy. The air is most likely dry in the winter months when the heater is running.
Smoke, Chemicals, and Other irritants
Many different chemicals and other substances in the environment irritate the throat, including:
Any injury, such as a hit or cut to the neck, can cause pain in the throat. Getting a piece of food stuck in your throat can also irritate it.
Repeated use strains the vocal cords and muscles in the throat. You can get a sore throat after yelling, talking loudly, or singing for a long period of time. Sore throats are a common complaint among fitness instructors and teachers, who often have to yell.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus — the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The acid burns the esophagus and throat, causing symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux — the regurgitation of acid into your throat.
A tumor of the throat, voice box, or tongue is a less common cause of a sore throat. When a sore throat is a sign of cancer, it doesn’t go away after a few days.
The symptoms of a sore throat can vary depending on what caused it. A sore throat can feel:
It may hurt more when you swallow or talk. Your throat or tonsils might also look red. If an injury causes it, you may see cuts or inflamed areas.
Sometimes, white patches or areas of pus will form on the tonsils. These white patches are more common in strep throat than in a sore throat caused by a virus.
Common infections causing a sore throat might result in other signs and symptoms, including:
Treatment for sore throat starts with home remedies. You can treat most sore throats with plenty of rest to give your immune system a chance to fight the infection naturally.
To relieve the pain of a sore throat:
Gargle with a mixture of warm water and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt.
Drink warm liquids that feel soothing to the throat, such as warm tea with honey, soup broth (chicken soup preferably), or warm water with lemon.
You can suck a piece of lozenges or cough drops (avoid candies high in sugar). Turn on a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to the air. Lastly, avoid talking too much or eating solid foods that may further irritate your throat.
You can take medicines to relieve the pain of a sore throat or to treat the underlying cause.
Don’t give aspirin to children and teenagers, as it’s been linked to a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. You can also use one or more of these treatments, which work directly to relieve the pain of your sore throat:
If your sore throat is not relieved using home remedies and over-counter-medicines, make sure to visit us to be checked and avoid serious infection complications.
Highland Family Medicine has been treating tonsillitis, sore throat, strep throat, and other painful throat conditions for over a decade. Dr. Helton and his fellow doctors, Dr. Housden and Dr. Hardin, have extensive experience treating sore throats, serving everyone in Murfreesboro, TN.
If you are in pain and having difficulty swallowing food and water, please do not hesitate to get that checked up. We can help speed up the healing process and give you the proper medication, especially if it’s a bacterial infection causing your sore throat. Contact us today for an appointment.
Highland Family Medicine and its doctors, Dr. Helton, Dr. Housden, and Dr. Hardin, have been serving and treating the community of Murfreesboro, TN, and surrounding areas for over two decades.
Collectively, they have treated more than 20,000 patients. Highland Family Medicine specializes in comprehensive health care for people of all ages, treating most ailments and non-emergencies.
Please don’t hesitate to call the Highland Family Medicine doctor’s office. Dr. Helton, Dr. Housden, and Dr. Hardin are professionals and ready to serve.