Sore Throat Causes and Treatment Options


A sore throat is very common. It can be caused by a variety of ailments. Most of us will be affected by some of these ailments at some point in our lives.

A sore throat makes eating and drinking difficult. If it's severe enough, difficulty swallowing can lead to weight loss or other problems.

This article will discuss the different causes of a sore throat and explain when you should see your doctor. It will also suggest ways to relieve a sore throat.

Get Medical Information / Alexandra Gordon

Causes of a sore throat

There are many possible causes of a sore throat. Some of the most common include:

Viral infections

Examples include influenza , cold viruses , COVID-19, croup, and mononucleosis . Less commonly, herpangina , measles , and chickenpox can cause a sore throat.

Bacterial infections

Strep throat is a bacterial infection of the throat . This can cause a severe sore throat and difficulty swallowing. The tonsils can also become very swollen.

A bacterium called Arcanobacterium haemolyticum can also cause a sore throat and rash.

Bacterial causes of a sore throat should be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, complications of a sore throat can include heart or kidney damage.

Sinus infections

The sinuses are hollow cavities in the skull. Bacteria, viruses, and even fungi can infect the sinuses and cause postnasal discharge . This is when mucus flows down the back of the throat. Infected mucus can cause a sore throat.


Allergies to dust, mold, or dander can cause postnasal discharge, which can make a sore throat worse.

Acid reflux

Stomach acid can enter your esophagus, the back of your throat, and your mouth while you sleep. That's why it hurts A throat caused by acid reflux is often worse in the morning. Nighttime acid reflux can also wear away the protective enamel on your teeth.

A look at acid reflux

Environmental irritants

Irritation from dry air, chemicals, or cigarette smoke can cause a sore throat. This can be made worse if you breathe with your mouth open.


Laryngitis is an inflammation of the vocal apparatus. This can happen when you abuse your voice. Laryngitis it can be a problem for singers and others who use their voice as part of their job. The condition also causes hoarseness and pain when speaking.


Intubation is a procedure in which a breathing tube is inserted into the airway. This can cause irritation, leading to a sore throat.

Breathing tubes are used during surgery or in connection with illness or injury. The pain is temporary and usually goes away within a day or two after the tube is removed.


Throat surgeries such as thyroidectomy or removal of the thyroid gland can also cause a sore throat.

Other medical procedures

Medical procedures such as esophagogastroduodenoscopy ( EGDS ) can cause a sore throat. During FGDS, an endoscope is inserted through the mouth and down the throat. This procedure is also called upper endoscopy.

Throat cancer

Tumors or other growths associated with throat cancer can cause a sore throat. This is not a common cause of a sore throat. Other reasons are much more likely.


A sore throat can have many causes. Viral and bacterial infections, allergies, acid reflux, and environmental irritants are potential causes of a sore throat.

When to see a doctor for a sore throat

If your sore throat lasts for more than a week and you don't know the cause, see your doctor. Your doctor will need to rule out serious medical conditions that can lead to dangerous health problems.

Viral and bacterial infections.

If your sore throat is caused by an infection, you likely have other symptoms as well. They may include:

See your doctor if you have severe pain or severe swelling of the tonsils. A sore throat accompanied by a rash is usually bacterial. Your doctor can decide if you need antibiotics.

It is difficult to distinguish bacterial from viral sore throats. Strep throat can cause serious complications if left untreated, so get tested if in doubt.

Almost any healthcare provider can test for strep. This includes family doctors and emergency care providers.

After nasal drops

A sore throat from nasal drops is rarely a cause for concern. However, if it lasts for more than a few weeks, you should see your doctor. Your GP is a good place to start, but you may also need to see an allergist . An allergist can determine if an allergy is causing a sore throat.

Acid reflux

If you have a sore throat that is worse in the morning or is accompanied by stomach pain and heartburn , it could be acid reflux. This requires a doctor's diagnosis. This is not an emergency, but it must be treated.

Family doctors and therapists often diagnose acid reflux. They can perform diagnostic tests or refer you to a specialist if necessary.

Over-the-counter or prescription medications can help with a sore throat associated with acid reflux. However, it is still important to see your doctor for an initial diagnosis. This will help rule out serious illness.

Sore throat after surgery

A sore throat that occurs immediately after general anesthesia or insertion of a breathing tube is probably not a cause for concern. However, if the pain persists within a few days, you can consult your doctor.

Some surgeries, such as thyroidectomy, can themselves cause a sore throat, so keep that in mind.


The following conditions are current emergencies. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you have a sore throat due to:

  • Constant drooling
  • Inability to swallow
  • Difficulty breathing


Many sore throats can be treated at home. If your sore throat lasts for more than a week or it is difficult for you to swallow or breathe, see your doctor.

How is a sore throat diagnosed?

There are many different ways to diagnose a sore throat. Your doctor may examine you, review your medical history, or order tests and / or imaging tests.

Throat culture

A throat culture is a test in which the back of the throat is rubbed with a long cotton swab. The swab is usually sent to a laboratory to test for the presence of bacteria. If it is a rapid strep test, you will get immediate results.

Rapid strep tests can sometimes give false negative results. For this reason, the throat culture is usually sent to the laboratory for further testing. After a day or two, you may be called in to confirm the diagnosis of pharyngitis .

A sore throat caused by sinusitis or nasal infections can be diagnosed with a throat culture. Your doctor may also take samples of your sputum , the material you cough up.

Allergy tests

Blood tests or allergy skin tests can tell your doctor if your sore throat is caused by an allergy.

During a skin test, your doctor exposes you to an allergen through a small scratch on the skin, something you may be allergic to. If you are allergic, you will have a reaction. Blood tests also look for antibodies (immune system proteins) against specific allergens.

Skin test results are available immediately. Blood test results can take several days.

Drug trials

Test medications for acid reflux can help your doctor find the cause of your sore throat. If you respond to treatment, your doctor may diagnose you with acid reflux.

Also, trying antihistamines can help your doctor diagnose allergies. This can be done before an allergy test.


Medical images, including computed tomography (CT) , ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) , can be used to diagnose a sore throat. This can be done if the suspected cause is a tumor, swelling, or sinusitis.

Acid reflux and similar problems are often diagnosed with an upper endoscopy.

Another test that can be used is to swallow barium . During this test, you will be asked to drink a thick solution that contains barium. The barium covers the esophagus and stomach so they can be seen on x-rays.

Physical exam

Your doctor will also do a physical exam to examine your throat and feel your neck. You will also be asked about your symptoms and medical history.

Your doctor will examine you for lumps or bumps in your throat. The lump that accompanies a sore throat may be a lymph node . It could also be something more disturbing. If your doctor cannot identify it as a lymph node, you may need a biopsy.


A sore throat can be diagnosed in a number of ways. You may need lab tests or imaging. A doctor can also diagnose it based on your symptoms.

How to treat a sore throat

There are several treatment options for a sore throat . Many of them can be started right now.

Lifestyle treatment options

A few simple steps can help relieve a sore throat:

  • Drink much liquid
  • Avoid smoking
  • Use a humidifier, a device that increases humidity in the air.


There are many medications available to treat the causes of a sore throat. Other medicines can treat the symptoms of a sore throat.


Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections such as a sore throat. They do not work against viruses. This treatment can be a single injection or oral antibiotics taken over a period of time.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are allergic to medications. There are many alternative antibiotics that you can take if you are allergic to penicillin or another antibiotic.


Antihistamines can relieve allergy symptoms. When you come in contact with an allergen like pollen, mold, or dander, your body releases histamine. Histamine plays an important role in pain sensation, which is why taking antihistamines can help with allergy-related angina. Over-the-counter antihistamines include:

Acid reflux medications

It can take time to successfully treat acid reflux. The sooner you are diagnosed and treated, the sooner symptoms, such as a sore throat, will go away.

Your doctor may start an H2 blocker (histamine) or proton pump inhibitor (PPI) test. Both types of drugs are available without a prescription. They include:


Pain relievers can help control the pain of any type of sore throat. Over-the-counter options include:

These medications are very effective for a sore throat.

If the sore throat is severe and / or painful when swallowing, your doctor may prescribe glucocorticoids. This includes:

Over-the-counter throat sprays like Cepacol (benzocaine / glycerin) and Vicks Formula 44 (glycerin / phenol) can also help relieve pain. Cough drops can also be helpful.

Alternative and complementary medicine

Warm decaf tea can help you stay hydrated. Try adding honey, pectin, or glycerin to your tea. These ingredients are called sedatives . Their effectiveness is limited, but they can help reduce irritation and create a soothing film on the throat.

Some people report relief after taking a commercial product called Throat Coat. Throat Coat contains:

A small study showed significant pain relief 30 minutes after using Throat Coat.

Research results on various Chinese herbs and acupuncture are conflicting. Doctors generally do not recommend these remedies. However, some people find them useful.

Talk to your doctor before taking herbal medications, especially if you are also taking prescription medications.


Some sore throat treatments address the cause of the pain. Others treat the pain on their own. Treatment may include medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments.

Prevent sore throat

Many causes of a sore throat are preventable. If you know why your throat hurts, you can prevent a sore throat in the future by treating the underlying cause. Lifestyle changes and better hygiene can also help you avoid a sore throat.

Prevention of viral and bacterial infections.

Washing your hands is the best way to prevent a sore throat caused by viruses and bacteria. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to wash your nails from fingernails to wrists. Good hand washing greatly reduces the chance of infection. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative when you are not near the bathroom.

Prevent acid reflux

Acid reflux can be related to your weight. Ask your doctor if this might be true for you. If so, losing weight is a great way to make a lifestyle change. It can reduce your symptoms and help prevent a sore throat in the long run.

Long-term treatment for allergies.

Ask your doctor about long-term use of oral or nasal allergy medications. Immunotherapy , such as allergy shots, may also be an option.


Many sore throats are preventable. Lifestyle changes, good hygiene practices, and medications to treat the underlying causes can often prevent a sore throat.


A sore throat can have a variety of causes, including viruses and bacteria, acid reflux, and allergies. See your doctor if your sore throat lasts for more than a week or if swallowing is difficult. A sore throat can be diagnosed with lab tests or a simple exam. Sometimes visualization may be necessary.

Over-the-counter medications can address the cause and symptoms of many sore throats. Alternative remedies can also help. If you have a bacterial infection, you may need antibiotics.

Washing your hands helps prevent a sore throat caused by viral and bacterial infections. Long-term medication and lifestyle changes can help with a sore throat that has other causes.

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