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What Is a Sore Throat?

Pharyngitis, the medical term for sore throat, is an infection with throat pain. It usually goes away by itself in a week without causing damage.

What Causes a Sore Throat?

The cause is usually a virus, but air pollution, alcohol, allergies, bacteria, chemicals, and smoking can also cause a sore throat.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sore Throat?

Throat discomfort is the most common symptom. Others, depending on the cause of the sore throat, may be earache, fever, large tonsils, neck pain, pain when talking or swallowing, red throat, runny nose, snoring and trouble breathing, drooling, general aches, and swollen, painful glands in the neck.

How Is a Sore Throat Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the medical history and examination, especially of the ears and throat. Usually, no other tests are needed. A swab of the throat may also be done if a streptococcal (strep) bacterial infection is suspected to be the cause. Blood tests may be done for other diseases, such as mononucleosis, if these are suspected.

How Is a Sore Throat Treated?

Most cases go away by themselves. Antibiotics are not helpful for viral infections. The health care provider will prescribe antibiotics only for a suspected bacterial infection. Drinking warm liquids, eating soft cold food, and gargling with warm saltwater solution may help the pain. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also be taken for fever and pain. A cool mist vaporizer may relieve a dry, tight feeling in the throat.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing a Sore Throat:

  • DO tell your health care provider about your medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse or you have a temperature higher than 101° F.
  • DO call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room for breathing or swallowing problems.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have joint pain, body swelling, or dark urine.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have severe throat pain that stops you from swallowing.
  • DO gargle with a warm saltwater solution.
  • DO use a vaporizer for a dry, tight feeling in the throat. Clean the vaporizer and change the water daily.
  • DO replace your toothbrush after treatment starts, to prevent reinfection.
  • DO limit activities until symptoms go away.
  • DO increase fluid intake.
  • DO follow a liquid diet (soups, gelatin, ice cream, and juices) if swallowing is hard.
  • DO call your health care provider if you get a severe headache, rash, or cough with thick, yellow-green, or bloody sputum.
  • DO eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep to improve your recovery time.
  • DO wash your hands often, especially before you eat and after being with someone who’s sick.
  • DO stop smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • DO stay away from cigarette smoke and air pollution.
  • DO get a humidifier if air in your home is very dry.
  • DON’T give aspirin to a child with fever or sore throat, to avoid the dangerous Reye’s syndrome.
  • DON’T stop taking your medicine or change your dosage because you feel better unless your health care provider tells you to.
  • DON’T share food, utensils, or drinking glasses. Avoid kissing someone who’s sick.

Contact the following sources:

  • Infectious Diseases Society of America
    Tel: (703) 299-0200
  • American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
    Tel: (703) 836-4444

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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